Stephanie Wolff, “Fishing Time At Fancy Hill”

Fishing Time at Fancy Hill: The box with embroidered spine label (not visible), the book, and the single folio colophon with embroidered front labels. All embroidered text reproduces Anna Blackwood Howell’s handwriting.

Page spread. Text of diary entry: “Feb 17th We have had an overflow tide, that has swept away almost all the banks, on the Jersey side of the Delaware”

Page spread. Text of diary entry: “April 10th Pleasant weather and a considerable increase of Shad”

Page spread. Text of diary entry: ” April 16th Weather Still lovely & we are catching fish finely Thanks be to God the bountiful giver of every good”

Page spread. Text of diary entry: “May 31st Stormy to the last it is blowing such a tornado that the men have no control over the nets One is torn in two & the other running away”


Stephanie Wolff (Norwich, Vermont)

Fishing Time At Fancy Hill
Pages of appliquéd paper illustrations and embroidered text on paper are sewn onto a concertina guard and bound into a codex. A single folio holds the colophon, with a clamshell box housing both items.
Unique work
Pages: 24
Dimensions open: Book: 10-1/8″ x 24″ x 1-3/4″
Dimensions closed: Book: 10-1/8″ x 12″ x 1-3/4″; colophon folio: 10-1/8″ x 12″ x 1/32″; box: 10-3/4″ x 12-7/16″ x 2-7/16″

Fishing Time at Fancy Hill focuses on an era when the weather and its effects were woven closely into daily life and thought. Drawn from diary entries of Anna Blackwood Howell (1769-­1855), a New Jersey widow who inherited a farm and fisheries on the Delaware River in 1818, the text illustrates the impact of weather on the shad fishing season at the Howe family’s Fancy Hill Farm. Mrs. Howell’s concerns and observations highlight this important but uncontrollable factor in the success of their fishing business. The 12 diary entries selected from a 30-­year period include topics such as ice on the river, storms eroding the banks, rival fishermen, success, and gratitude.

Some entries:
“March 7 There has been another very cold night River crowded with ice It is within 3 weeks of fishing time There must be a great change before Shad can come up the river”
“April 22nd No fishing our boats were so much injured it will take all some time to repair April 23 Still blowing a gale”

Using the traditional handwork techniques of embroidery and appliqué, the book references the needlework women practiced during early America. Mrs. Howell’s handwriting is reproduced in thread on paper and illustrations are pieced with cut paper, both hand-­stitched. Each entry includes a notation of month and day to connect the cyclical seasonal calendar with the requirements of a life so closely connected to the land. A Creative and Performing Artists and Writers Fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society, which holds a collection of Anna Blackwood Howell’s diaries, supported the research for this book.

My artist books often derive from remnants of the past, whether through language or image, largely gathered from research in libraries, museums, and archives. Collected evidence, along with historic voices and image-­makers, serve as my collaborators in linking the present to the past, as well as the new to the familiar. Staying true to the manuscripts, texts, or illustrations is important to me, even as I edit and interpret my source material. Through carefully considered physical and content choices and by embedding layers of meaning, I hope to pull a reader in, and allow for new discoveries, perspectives and understandings over multiple readings.