Gilded Age exotic orchids, ferns, and flowering plants courtesy of Danna DiElsi, The Silk Touch, photography: Sarah Grote Photography (contributed photo)
Norwalk, CT - A new exhibit entitled, Collecting in Victorian America: The Great Divide of the Gilded Age, curated by Kathleen Motes Bennewitz will open at the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum on Wed., July 11, 2018, 12-4 p.m. with a reception on Thurs., July 12, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Admission is included with the Mansion’s tours: $10 adults, $8 seniors, $6 students 8-18 years old/45 minute tour; $20 adults, $18 seniors, $16 students 8-18 years old/90 minute tour. Reception: $10 non-members, $5 members.
In the 19th century, well before Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, Americans used their leisure time for a variety of pastimes, one of which was collecting. People obsessed over trends and scientific breakthroughs that swept society— and tourism, maps, rare objects, and “orchidelirium,” to name a few, became significant diversions from the grim realities of the era, but also a way to experience new inventions and discoveries and expand on a newfound understanding of the world.
Stereoscopic views, precursors of 3D technology, underscored an era of unprecedented mobility; this was the age of steam travel, railways, westward expansion, the rise of national and international tourism, and the publication of the first commercial guidebooks. Collecting was a serious business; and in time, improved standards of living, transportation technology, and mass productions enabled Americans across gender and class, to participate in the science. Chromolithographs of paintings such as Bierstadt’s Domes of Yosemite, 1867, owned by LeGrand Lockwood, were deemed “Pictures for the People” and attained unprecedented popularity as, “For ten dollars the working man may glorify his house… delight his eyes and his soul…warm his patriotism and feed his ambition,” wrote The Western New Yorker in 1869. Miniature versions of renowned sculptures were mass produced and priced to be acquired for the simplest of homes.
The exhibit will feature a rare gold bracelet with a lock of hair given by Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria Adelaide, Princess Royal, to her governess Madame Rollande de la Sauge, Private collection; Albumen prints of Egypt, France, and Italy, 1870s-80s, courtesy of The Westport Library; a Japanese kimono, circa 1876, from the Mathews Family, LMMM Permanent collections; a reduced cast of Hiram Powers’, The Greek Slave, 1847, courtesy of Westport Historical Society; and a John Rogers sculpture group, Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations, 1865, courtesy of the New Canaan Historical Society; exotic orchids, ferns, and flowering plants courtesy of Danna DiElsi, The Silk Touch.
Victorian era domed basket of flowers composed of gathered sea shells; Courtesy of Westport Historical Society, photography: Sarah Grote Photography (contributed photo)
High Society’s collecting practices were stimulated by new wealth of the post-Civil War era and need to assert America’s cultural literacy. Visitors will view LeGrand Lockwood’s own magnificent collection of art, maps, and books as a launching pad for the exhibit, but more importantly as a foil to some of the populist and egalitarian trends being presented. Viewers will gain a broad understanding of the relevancy of the Victorian passion to accumulate and study across socio-economic classes and how collections of rarified, found, or mass produced objects can shed light on 19th century interests, new technologies, commercial enterprises, and shared American values.
The Museum’s 2018 cultural and educational programs are made possible in part by generous funding from LMMM’s Founding Patrons: The Estate of Mrs. Cynthia Clark Brown, LMMM’s 2018 Season Distinguished Benefactors: The City of Norwalk, and The Maurice Goodman Foundation; 2018 Distinguished Benefactors for Education: Daphne Seybolt Culpeper Foundation and GE. Photography courtesy of Sarah Grote Photography.