History on display

JCHS exhibit depicts life in
Madison during Victorian era

Artifacts include social
calling cards from Shrewsburys

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(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.

Victorian Room

Photo by Konnie McCollum

The 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 Society’s 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 War I.
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 pioneer’s 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 Victorian exhibit.
“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,” said Grimes.
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 item.
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.

Back to February 2009 Articles.



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