THE COLONIAL REVIVAL IN AMERICA by Alan--Ed. Axelrod

THE COLONIAL REVIVAL IN AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This latest in a Winterthur series of collected conference-papers on American material culture provides entr‚e, at diverse points, to that ubiquitous, everlasting phenomenon: colonial revivalism. As Kenneth Ames points out in the Introduction, ""colonial can be seen as a code word for anti- or non-Victorian, anti- or non-modern"" (embracing the early Republic, not only the colonial period); it can also be seen, as Ames notes, as an expression of nationalism and a strategy to Americanize the immigrant hordes. Only a few of the 14 papers that follow combine the close and the large view. (Ames himself concludes with a limp pox on colonialism as ""reactive,"" ""the product of cultural retaliation."") But pieces of the story emerge, at least, from the specialist-papers that chiefly document the phenomenon: Charles Hosmer, Jr. on garden restoration at Williamsburg; Edward Teitchman on the colonial revival architecture of Wilson Eyre in Philadelphia and Catherine Howett on that of Neel Reid in Georgia; Charles Carpenter, Jr. on colonial revival silver (""the popular style of the twentieth century""); Melinda Young Frye on Charles P. Wilcomb and the beginning of the period room in American museums (another feather in the Oakland cap); Jeanne S. Rhymer on colonialist furniture-making at Arthurdale, Eleanor Roosevelt's Appalachian experiment (cited as non-elitist--but also unconnected to other craft-projects). Mardges Bacon seems to be writing on a sidelight, the Beaux Arts connection; but in fact she widens the subject, beyond the quaint and homespun, to include revival of French and American classicism (the so-called American Renaissance of the 1890s). Surveying the outbreak of picturesque colonialism at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, better known as a beaux-arts ""White City,"" Susan Prendergast Schoelwer observes that the display exposed midwesterners ""to the historical shrines of the original thirteen colonies,"" while the architecture itself was more eclectic for being at a distance from the shrines. At the heart of the revival, though, were picture-book ""colonial"" towns like Litchfield, Conn.--on which William Butler contributes an outstanding paper (what the real colonial Litchfield was like, the actual preservation of a prosperous, early Federal image, restoration in recoil from the 1913 Armory Show!)--and the ersatz ""colonial kitchen,"" which Rodris Roth traces (in a drily amusing eye-opener) to mid-l 9th-century Sanitary Fair exhibits. Papers that more directly address the revival's meaning--Celia Betsky on the colonial interior in art and literature, Beverly Seaton on depictions of colonial life in popular historical fiction--go over familiar cultural-history ground. On Americanization, however, William Rhoads has fresh word of ""colonial"" settlement houses and Catholic churches. Variously of interest, then, to students of colonial revival structures and furnishings, members of the museum/restoration world, and scholars focusing on colonialism in American life.

Pub Date: April 8th, 1985
Publisher: Norton