Friday, February 3, 2012

New Season, New Table Setting, New Exhibit

Our intrepid curator, Patti Phillipon, has changed the setting in the dining room table. We change the table settings often to reflect the season, or some historical element that we would like to highlight on our tours. This change is no exception. We thought you, dear readers, might like some inside knowledge on how and why we curate certain aspects of the house. Ready to put your history-caps on? (Then take them off-- you're going into a party with ladies, for heaven's sakes.)

The dining-room, where the party took place
The new table setup is based on a letter written by Margaret (Daisy) Warner to her father, dated Hartford, March 20th, 1887.

 “Susy Clemens was fifteen years old yesterday [March 19, 1887] and she had a lovely party.  The two Twichell girls, Mary and Hattie Foote, Cousin Lilly, Ward Foote, Hattie Whitmore, and Fannie Freese, and Lucy Drake, and I were all there to supper.  Mrs. Clemens had her beautiful big, round dinner table, and at each place was a lovely bunch of beautiful roses.  Three or four at each place, and we all put them on.  And also, at each place was a lovely little glass dish of candy, tied around with pretty ribbons and a little Japanese card with our names on it, on the top of the dish.  In the middle of the table, was a kind of pyramid of nasturtiums and then there were other vases, of roses.  And those tall silver candles were on the table, too and the whole thing was so lovely… We then had soup, then turkey, and with it some little potato-cakes and jelly – Then salad, and then straw-berries and ice cream, and cakes (lady-fingers etc.) and then the big birthday-cake was brought on, with fifteen lighted candles.  It was very pretty.  Of course we had some of it; and then we had fruit and candy.  After supper we danced and had charades.  Mr. Clemens read some “Uncle Remus” to us and Mama and Frank, and Aunt Lottie, came in after supper.  And altogether we had a DELIGHTFUL time."

The table is set for eight guests a la Russe.  This means that there would be no food on the table when the dinner guests arrived.  Food would be served either from the sideboard or brought out from the kitchen, and be presented to the diners.  In our setup, the turkey stands on a side table waiting to be carved and served.  The “little Japanese cards” on the table have the names of 8 of the children who attended the party – Susy, Daisy, Susan Twichell, Julia Twichell, Mary, Hattie, and Ward Foote, and Fannie Freese. We don't have quite enough room to fit all eleven mentioned place settings in-- if we did, there'd be no room for tours to go through. So if you're coming through this season you can simply imagine yourself as guest number nine. Don't touch the collection objects, though!

The dinner plates are Wedgwood bone china, dated approximately 1895.  The glasses are Bohemian cut crystal with etched poppy designs on the body, foot and rim.  They were purchased in Europe – not by the Clemens family -- during the 1880s or 1890s.  We are showing the water glasses on the table. 

The majority of the silverware is the Gorham “Rosette” pattern introduced circa 1867 and sold by Tiffany & Company.  They are engraved “Olivia L. Langdon” on the handles.  The knives, which are of a different pattern, have mother-of-pearl handles.   According to one source, “…knives were not always considered part of a flatware service before the 1890s…Knives, with mother-of-pearl, silver, ivory, or plastic handles, were often sold separately, although they could be obtained with a set.”  

A large cake for the dessert course is shown on the sideboard, which would have been typical for the time Cake and sweets were popular and often served at children’s birthday parties, as shown in both Daisy Warner’s letter and the attached photo of a Victorian children’s party.  Other parts of the dessert (strawberries and candy) are in the Butler’s Pantry waiting to be brought out.

In the library, on the small table to the left of the fireplace, is a copy of Uncle Remus.  Sam read excerpts from this book to the children following the dinner party. The reason we're putting up this table setting, and its accompanying details, a couple of months early is that we're talking about Uncle Remus in our upcoming exhibit, A Sound Heart and a Deformed Conscience

On the center table of the main room are all sorts of tools used to bake Susy’s birthday cake (mixing bowls, wooden spoons, eggs, egg whisk, and more).  On the small table under the windows is a basket of nasturtiums and roses that are also seen on the table.  There is an additional corsage of roses being put together.  On the stove, potatoes are boiling in a pot for the potato cakes. In the Scullery, there is a colander with lettuce and tomatoes draining to be used for the salad course. In the Butler’s Pantry, George is plating strawberries and candy for the dessert course.  The dessert plates are also waiting to be brought out.  They are polychromed, painted porcelain. 

As you can see, when we work on the interior details of the house, we try to make sure we do a complete job. This one little letter from a girl named Daisy allows us to accurately fill in details of nearly every room on the first floor of the house, and informs our exhibition programming. We're happy to share all of these historical tidbits with you today-- all because one little girl took the time to hand-write a letter to her dad.

-- Patti Phillipon, Chief Curator, and Julia Pistell, Communications Associate

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