The Revival Home

The representation of history in the home is inherently political. The Revival Home brings together two distinct time periods: 1876 and 1976, known as the Centennial and Bicentennial respectively. Both were historical moments when textile designers and makers looked to the past for inspiration and reinterpreted this history through the prism of strikingly different political contexts. This myth-making worked to both diminish the often layered and difficult histories of African Americans and Native Americans, and celebrate specific European-American histories of whiteness and settler colonialism. Both eras of political commemoration of the nation witnessed high rates of immigration to the United States, along with rising awareness of ethnic identities and income inequality. The image of a unified nation presented through revival design masked these social and economic fissures, often giving primacy to the heritage of particular sectors of the population. The Revival Home explores the cultural work of reviving—or crafting—histories that serve current political needs, whether through mottos, iconography, or making practices. The material qualities of these revivals are characterized by the reproduction of earlier objects considered documents of the past, an importance placed on genealogy, and the uncanny effect of familiar designs being recast to suit modern tastes.

Centennial and Bicentennial

These two furnishing fabrics show how fabric manufacturers adopted the political icon of George Washington to celebrate the nation’s Centennial in 1876 and Bicentennial in 1976. The fabric on the left was created in 1876, and draws from the same portrait of Washington by Gilbert Stuart that is used in the handkerchief in The Federal Home, placing the image within a medallion that mimics a picture frame; the pattern radiating from each medallion is a motif of coral that was popular in domestic furnishings of the era. The Bicentennial fabric on the right invokes Washington’s military record. The initials GW appear as “brass buttons” in the center of medallions, surrounded by small green circles with the initials of the original 13 states. Other medallions reference the early military efforts of Virginia and Maryland; this material was part of Waverly Fabrics’ Tidewater Collection, which celebrated the history of the Chesapeake region.

Genealogy and Relics

The inscription on this embroidered bookmark reads, “Oaken chair of Gov. Carver’s brought over in the May Flower, 1620.” John Carver was the first Governor of Plymouth County, whose name became synonymous with this style of “pilgrim” chair. New studies have shown that the chair, at Pilgrim Hall Museum, was made of American wood, debunking the long-held belief of its origin. Other needlepoints of the chair exist with the same inscription, no doubt inspired by the many prints and photographs of this relic. Objects with real and imagined associations to the Mayflower were prized and many were displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial. Owning and making representations of these items was a way for individuals to connect to a kind of material Mayflower genealogy. The printed sampler handkerchief represents a similar investment, as it reproduces a needlework form widely associated with early American girlhood and invites participation from a new generation of girls.

Making as Revival

Practicing historical making techniques was another form of revival. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tourists often purchased Native American “whimsies” as souvenirs. These objects are typically examples of Haudenosaunee raised beadwork, which have a characteristic three-dimensional quality such as the bird pincushion displayed here. Anishinaabe beading, such as the bag and heart-shaped pincushion shown here, is notable in the use of black ground fabric to highlight the maker’s artistry. Though white tourists often bought these items as souvenirs of a so-called “dying race,” they represent the persistence of beadwork traditions through generations of campaigns of cultural genocide. This art form continues today, including by Wisconsin bead workers. At the same time, this tea towel materializes a singular family’s European-American story of “revival.” Similar to objects in the adjacent case, the linen was hand-spun and handwoven. Sarah Gaskell Allen worked it in 1709, and her descendant Gertrude Eleanor Wood Shaw embroidered this homespun cloth in 1916 for her daughter. These objects connect historic making techniques to the present and future through the revival of craft practice.

Mid-Century Revivals

These textiles date from the 1920s through the 1950s, decades of cultural, economic, and social transformation, including the crisis points of the Great Depression and World War II. This upheaval led some textile manufacturers, and consumers, to embrace nostalgic visions of American history; the choices of what to include and exclude from these narratives of the past were informed by contemporary politics. Scenes of European colonization, Revolutionary-era heroics, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello were incorporated into the familiar textile forms of toiles and repeating prints. The image of soldiers is superimposed over the text of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason in 1776, and widely considered an inspiration for the Declaration of Independence. Some artists better known for their modernist approaches to American design turned to familiar emblems in times of crisis, such as Marguerita Mergentime’s New England Eagle design, printed during World War II.

Historical Documents

While some revival furnishing fabrics incorporated historical scenes or sites into new patterns, other designs took inspiration directly from surviving examples of historical textiles, while using modern dyes and printing techniques. These examples of Waverly Fabrics from the late 1960s and early 1970s reference specific historic sites, such as Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts and the Schuyler Mansion in New York State. While the exact design process for the modern textiles is unclear, many of these fabrics were marketed under the brand name “Heirloom Documents” or otherwise included the word “document” in their pattern name, implying that these textiles served as truthful records of the past. While these vibrant prints of flowers, fruits, and exotic birds may not on their surfaces appear to be overtly political, the reproduction fabrics evoke a particular narrative of American history, in which Americans of European descent achieved economic, political, and cultural dominance. This is exemplified by the “Gunston Hall” pattern, referencing the home of founding father George Mason where he owned hundreds of enslaved persons. Mason was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which is printed on the “Americana” furnishing fabric in “Mid-Century Revivals” above.

Imitation Textile Techniques

The five furnishing fabrics displayed here replicate historical textile making techniques including patchwork, embroidery, and weaving but use modern printing technologies to achieve these designs, much like the printed patchwork fabric in the “Colonial Revival” section above. The fabric with the green eagle, for instance, mimics the look of overshot woven coverlets such as those in The Federal Home.

Two fabrics pull from specific textiles in American museum collections. The “Centennial Patchwork” incorporates imagery from a quilt block in the Bradbury Family Centennial Quilt at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. The Centennial Quilt was itself made of revival fabric samples. One century later, this fabric sample reimagines the cartouches of bells, liberty caps, and flags for a 1970s audience. “The Forefathers” replicates an 1853 quilt at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library. The fabric manufacturer, Brunschwig & Fils, changed the color scheme and added borders between the figures.