exhibit depicts life in
Madison during Victorian era
calling cards from Shrewsburys
(February 2009) Life for pioneer families
in Madison, Ind., was tough and sparse. By the 1840s, however, evidence
of prosperity began to be seen throughout the parlors of many middle
and upper-class families in the area.
by Konnie McCollum
Victorian exhibit at the Jefferson
County Historical Society Museum
offers a trip back in time.
A new permanent exhibit featuring Victorian-era living
room has been set up at the Jefferson County Historical Societys
Heritage Center, 615 W. First St. The room, with its hodge-podge of
furnishings, décor and activities, depicts an informal family
parlor as it would have been for town dwellers during the Victorian
era, which lasted from just after the American Civil War until World
There was an older Victorian-era exhibit on display in the museum years
ago, said Joe Carr, executive director of the Jefferson County Historical
Society. The new exhibit expands on that theme and brings some
interesting information out in a new setting. It is a welcome addition
to our permanent exhibits.
Julie Curtis, the artifacts curator for the Heritage Center, and archivists
Jacqueline Grimes, Mike Moore and Ron Grimes did the construction, interpretation
and actual display for the exhibit.
Grimes said the group worked on the exhibit throughout the summer months.
It has been open for public viewing for about a month. Julie and
Jacqueline did a fantastic job of showcasing the artifacts, each of
which has some tie to our community.
The exhibit is situated across from another permanent exhibit depicting
rural life for area pioneers. The pioneer exhibit is a recreated stone
house, typical of early Jefferson County rural dwellings. It contains
a collection of early farming and domestic artifacts including a spinning
wheel and a pioneers desk. The simple, plain room, which includes
a bare wooden floor with a homespun rug, contrasts sharply with the
elaborate and sometimes ornate patterns, colors and furnishings of the
We put the two exhibits close together so visitors could get a
feel for how different town life was for middle class families versus
rural residents, said Grimes.
Among the many interesting artifacts in the display are replicas of
a collection of calling cards for soirees, excursions, promenades and
parties from the prominent Shrewsbury family of Madison. Calling in
the Victorian era was a ritualized version of visiting. Calling cards
and invitations would have been brought to the parlor from a silver
tray kept in the front hall where visitors left them.
Mrs. Ellen Shrewsbury, wife of Charles, evidently kept many of
her calling cards. We are fortunate to have the entire collection,
Another interesting piece in the exhibit is the bell jar filled with
stuffed birds. The craft of taxidermy, used to create the birds, was
one of the hobbies of the day, and birds were a popular décor
Another interesting piece is the center table, which was found in most
Victorian parlors. This round table once belonged to the Shrewsbury
family. The decoupage surface is an example of the decorative arts practiced
by Victorian-era women.
Other artifacts in the exhibit include toys, clothing, a sewing machine,
framed needlepoint, and decorative items. Each of these has a specific
tie to Madison, which visitors will be able to read about when they
come to the exhibit.
For more information about the Victorian exhibit,
call the Heritage Center at (812) 265-2335 or visit: www.jchshc.net.
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