Furniture to Fashion
Aspects of the Colonial Revival
From the Nation’s Centennial in 1876 through about 1940, increased interest in America’s colonial past produced the movement known as the Colonial Revival. Connecticut became an early center of the movement, and examples of the style are found throughout the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society.
While some people expressed their fascination with the colonial period by collecting American antiques, many others purchased modern reproductions or objects meant to evoke the colonial era. The Russian-born Hartford cabinetmaker, Nathan Margolis, made a name for himself as an excellent maker of Colonial Revival furniture. From Chippendale to Federal style furniture, Margolis created finely crafted pieces for his customers, each one harkening back to a “simpler” time amidst the chaos of the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods.
Not only did people dress their homes in the colonial style, but they also dressed themselves. Centennial celebrations usually included costume balls, pageants, and parades with men and women dressed in elaborate colonial recreations, or even treasures from the family attic. Generally these individuals sought the feel of the era, rather than an accurate recreation of it. Colonial-inspired designs for everyday dress also made appearances, sometimes crossing gender lines as men’s embroidered colonial jackets inspired women’s embroidered bodices.
Along with furniture and costume, architecture, book design, ceramics, silver, and even photography and the fine arts were all influenced by the Colonial Revival. Occasionally, entire towns would revive their colonial aesthetic, replacing 19th-century buildings with Colonial recreations so that the Green once again became the town center. What remained of colonial Connecticut assumed great importance in the minds of its residents, resulting in a variety of nostalgic works that focused on the ideal of the small New England village.
Even today, the colonial style remains popular, especially in New England; and as Halloween approaches people continue to enjoy dressing as ghosts of the Nation’s past.