It is the time of church fairs, jumble, estate & yard sales here in the Northeast hills. Tables under tents are laden with cast-off objects ripe for the picking. At the moment, I am searching for old pots to use for dye vats, old linens to serve as modern canvases, and the occasional object to brighten up the home.
When did the obsession with ‘ye olde tyme’ begin? Coincidentally, I am reading a fascinating new biography of Alice Morse Earle (1851-1911), one of the first material culture historians. Susan Reynolds Williams examines the life of Earle from her childhood in Worcester, MA through her adult life in Brooklyn, NY. During the course of her life, Earle published 17 books, and lucky for me, I found her Home Life in Colonial Days on a library book sale table a few years ago and have returned to it to refresh my memory.
Apparently the ‘colonial revival’ began with the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and with this, the International Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876. Williams describes the fair in detail and it would have been a pleasure to walk through the exhibitions including “U.S. Patent Office’s presentation of George Washington’s life as a collection of relics” and especially the “recreation of the New England Farmer’s Home and Modern Kitchen.” Even though ‘antiquing’ began as a passion in 1850, it was the Centennial, according to Williams, that spawned “…a full blown colonial revival, fed by the establishment of historical societies, museum exhibitions, historic preservation societies.” Earle’s numerous well-researched books, including China Collecting in America, armed the collector with the knowledge to look for authentic artifacts.
I look forward to finishing Williams’ book, as well as reading more of Earle’s works. The first on the list is her edited version of Diary of Anna Green Winslow A Boston School Girl of 1771. If one so desires, many of Earle’s books may be downloaded to your kindle, but why not look for them at your local jumble sale instead?
Thanks to Karen Fisk from University of Massachusetts Press for alerting me to the Williams’ biography of Alice Morse Earle, Alice Morse Earle and the Domestic History of Early America.[Susan Reynolds Williams, Alice Morse Earle and the Domestic History of Early America, (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), pgs. 88-92]