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Fish Forks and Fine Furnishings: Consumer Culture in the Gilded Age

May 26, 2017–August 27, 2017

During the American Gilded Age, which offered unprecedented access to consumer goods, what one owned or had the ability to buy became an important way to assert one’s identity.

The American Gilded Age (1870–1900) was a time of rapid modernization and great expansion of the country’s middle class. Though there was also vast income disparity, most Americans experienced an increase in overall quality of life.

Mass manufacturing permitted most people to buy a wealth of new goods, and the growth of trade and travel meant that Americans had new access to, and interest in, goods from around the world. Suddenly, even the middle class could emulate the wealthy, and identity was bound more than ever to what one owned.

From fish forks and fashionable dress, to furniture and fine china, this exhibition explores the seemingly superficial personal and household objects consumed during this era and how they were visible and powerful symbols of wealth, power, and social class. They speak not only to the great change changes occurring in America at the time, but to our continuing preoccupation today with the objects we choose to buy, wear, and display.


Curated by Cat Shteynberg, Assistant Director/Curator. Support provided by Home Federal Bank, The Henley and Peggy Tate Museum Fund, and Clarence Brown Theatre.

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