This reading explores how an expanding urban middle-class came in the United States came define itself through industrially made products.
Until 1850, most Americans lived in extended families (many generations in one household) in small towns and villages. Families knew one another, their class, and their morals. A wealthy class lived in nice homes. In the South, those homes were maintained by enslaved African-Americans. Everyone else – laborers, apprentices, farmers, lived a similar type of subsistence existence with just a few possessions.
But after 1850, many Americans moved from farms to cities where they became managers, and owners of factories and the merchants, banks, warehouses and distributors that supported them. They formed a new class tier between the wealthy and the working class – a middle class. The wealthy had always distinguished themselves with their hand made luxury clothing and material possessions. The middle-class needed to distinguish themselves from the working class. They did so through education, manners, and the acquisition and display of objects and interiors canonized by taste makers in books and guides. Taste in design – is a discriminatory term that requires knowledge of acquired from reading and living in a specific way.
During the era of the Aesthetic Movement, to express your upper-class status, you hired a new type of firm – an interior decorator, to create a tasteful interior. If you were of a middle-class woman, you read about it books and acquired and arranged your home. Because among the middle-class, and to a lesser degree the working class, the responsibility of interior decorator fell upon women.
In farms and villages family life was a productive partnership. Men worked outside the home in farms and workshops, and women worked within the home to produce most things needed by the household. Women were responsible for child-rearing, canning and preserving food, weaving and sewing clothes, laundry and cleaning, making candles and soap, etc… In cities, families sent their children to private and public schools, purchased food and clothing and supplies at markets and shops, paid to have their laundry cleaned, and hired immigrant women to clean their homes. In the city, the job of middle-class wives and mothers became maintaining the moral health of the family. She needed to produce and maintain a home as a private safe-haven that would keep her husband and children from the dangers of the vices of the city, drugs, alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. Houses came to have strict separation of public and private spaces. A separate, parlor and dining room where the family entertained guests, and private kitchens, bedrooms and sitting rooms for the use of the family. The public spaces of the home were decorated with objects to communicate the families moral values to visitors.
“Although the contents of the home tended to be commercial artefacts,” Meikle writes, “…people carefully acquired and arranged them to express their own taste and ultimately their unique character.” (Meikle, 55).
1. How does Meikle describe the gender of history of the Rookwood Pottery, and how and why did the production method change. (78-79). How did the change effect the appearance of the potter (compare Figures 38 and 39).
2. How did new technologies of manufacturing produce objects that satisfied the need of middle-class women to decorate a moral home?
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The name of the book is Design in the USA by Jeffrey L. Meikle, published on 2005-07-28
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