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: 86 ; Chapter 4 TheChinaHunter • T he success of Alice Morse Earle’s first book, which sold more than ten thousand copies during its first year in print, and her growing popularity as a magazine writer led to the publication of a rapid succession of books and articles. Increasingly Earle’s writings began to focus on the material culture of early America—an emerging trend. China Collecting in America, published in 1892, was her first attempt at categorization and contextualization of the artifacts of the past. Subsequently she became highly skilled at enhancing her historical narratives through the social and cultural analysis of artifacts. As reviews and book sales demonstrated, this approach resonated strongly with an audience of antique collectors; creators of historical societies, period rooms, and house restorations; as well as architects and designers of household furnishings and amateur and professional historians alike (fig. 11). Moreover,in her new book,Earle extolled the personal benefits of china collecting, claiming that it heightened her emotional sensibilities. China hunting, she declared, offered “insights into human nature, love of my native country, knowledge of her natural beauties, acquaintance with her old landmarks and historical localities,”and “admiration of her noble military and naval heroes.”1 This view of collecting as a therapeutic endeavor was shared by many middle-class men and women at the turn of the century as part of a larger antimodern outlook, which sought to remedy the : 87 The China Hunter Figure 11. William Cowper Prime used this image as the frontispiece for Pottery and Porcelain of All Times (1878). The image suggests a cultural resonance for china far beyond its function as a container for liquids or a surface for eating. Earle’s China Collecting in America would have resonated with a widespread desire to use ceramic objects to saturate family spaces with new kinds of visual complexity. Author’s collection. 88 ; Chapter 4 problems of industrialization and the breakdown of traditional institutions with authentic or historical activities and experiences.2 Briann Greenfield has argued that the rise of antiques collecting, period rooms, house restorations, and museum exhibitions of American artifacts served a desire to counter the perceptions of material and moral decline resulting from unfettered capitalism by constructing a new national narrative of restrained progress from a traditional “homespun”past, a goal Earle certainly shared.This phenomenon followed a defined trajectory,from artifacts serving on a symbolic level as “memory markers,” embellishing historical pageants and house restorations, and reappearing as reproductions, to their ultimate transformation into national aesthetic treasures that formed the basis of an active consumer marketplace for antiques.The World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 stimulated a national desire to reconfigure the image of the United States as a world power,and along with that,to construct a new cultural identity of national superiority.3 By 1900, cultural indications of this revival abounded. Americans could learn about colonial life in numerous magazine articles and books, including popular fiction that utilized the literary device of a colonial setting. They could also observe colonial life re-created in pageants, at the theater, and in the period rooms, historic houses,and gardens that had been appearing since the mid-century restoration of George Washington’s headquarters at Hasbrouck House in Newburgh, New York. Washington’s home at Mount Vernon opened to the public just before the Civil War. Both of these sites reflected the popular fascination with historical associations and environments.The power of place at Mount Vernon was sufficient to save it from destruction during the war.The antiquarian and Washington scholar Benson Lossing reported that although the Civil War had “raged at times with destructive energy in the vicinity of Mount Vernon, the most profound and reverential respect for the HOME OF WASHINGTON was shown by the soldiery of both parties.”4 During the Civil War, generically “colonial” room settings became the focus of so-called sanitary fair exhibitions.The first of these, a New England kitchen, was constructed in Brooklyn for the Brooklyn and Long Island Sanitary Fair of 1864.5 The organizing committee for the Brooklyn exhibition was composed of a number of people who, like Earle after them, were transplanted New Englanders.The Brooklyn kitchen was furnished with objects on loan from personal collections as well as artifacts collected in New England specifically for the fair.6 : 89 The China Hunter The hundredth anniversary, in 1876, of the signing of the Declaration of Independence stimulated widespread patriotic celebrations, the most notable being the International...


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