Tastemakers and Trends

Among fashion’s enduring traits are a tendency toward the irrational, a penchant for whimsy, and sometimes even a hint of danger. Until the invention of synthetic dyes, bright, colorfast hues were sought after due to their scarcity in the natural world. Color combinations that would be condemned by contemporary eyes as gaudy or garish were embraced by Colonial and Victorian Americans in their choices for apparel and home décor.  

Maker unknown
Pasteboard (thin cardboard)
11 ½ x 16 x 13 in.
Accession No: 2017.51.2
Gift of Suzanne Hamilton

Tastemakers  and  Trends: What is chinoiserie?

Chinoiserie  comes from the French word, chinois, for Chinese. The term perfectly illustrates how this design style did not come directly from Asia, but rather is a European interpretation of Asian culture and design.  The style originated in the 17th century, at the height of European trade with China and other Asian countries. However, trade with the East could not keep up with the demands of the market, so Western designers created their own “chinois” - inspired  pieces. Since these were Westerners’ interpretations of Asian aesthetics, sometimes their own cultural fantasies blended with Asian compositions.  This bandbox, a cardboard box used to carry hats and other materials, is a wonderful example of this  cultural fusion. At first glance,  the  hunting scene  on the bandbox’s  surfaces imulates an  Asian print, but a closer look reveals a mix of “foreign” cultures that the American creator  simply  cobbled together.  The scene depicts  a  classic fox hunt, but the riders are Native Americans shooting bows and arrows instead of upper-class Westerners shooting rifles.  These seemingly out-of-place hunters add to the exotic feel of the scene, as does the parrot  depicted  on the box’s lid.

Blue tureen
Probably made by the  Moustier s potters
ca. 1745
Tin-glazed earthenware
10 x 9 ¼ x 13 ½ x
Accession No: 2003.27
Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council  Grant Purchase

Tastemakers  and Trends: What inspired the designs of French faience?

After Louis XIV banned silver and gold tableware in France in 1672—reserving  precious  metals for the state treasury to pay for his wars—the French pottery industry subsequently blossomed due to a need for new tableware. To replace the grand tableware of old, faience pottery pieces flooded aristocratic and provincial tables alike.  Faience refers to tin-glazed earthenware.

Naturally, since the height of faience pottery was prompted by the seemingly overnight replacement of silver tableware, it makes sense that this new ceramic tableware would mimic  the  existing popular silver forms.  Coinciding with the increasing popularity of Asian porcelain imports, which were too expensive for even most of France’s nobility, French potters decorated their pieces to mimic Asian porcelain in both color (white and blue) and design.  Another ban during this period was the import of chintz fabric, from 1686 to 1759. This decorative Indian cotton fabric incorporated motifs of flowers, exotic figures, and insects, woven together with  broderie  motifs which resembled geometrically arranged panels of drapery. This piece, probably made by the potteries at Moustier-Sainte-Marie, features all of these influences. The shape of the tureen was designed to simulate the silver forms Louis XIV banned. The classic blue and white combination was a direct imitation of imported  Asian porcelain.  And the hand-painted designs were influenced by  both  the styles of Asian porcelain  and  the motifs and patterns from chintz fabrics.  Sherds of faience pottery  similar to  this piece were found at the Post of Arkansas.

Broadside and trading card
Little Rock Paint & Color Works
Printed by M.R. Savage
Little Rock, AR
ca. 1890
Mineral-based paint on paper
6 ¼ X 16 in.
Accession No: 2017.4
Historic Arkansas  Museum Foundation Purchase

Tastemakers  and  Trends:  What was the appeal of this paint store’s product?

Local paint stores of the late 19th century usually sold paint manufactured out-of-state, but Little Rock Paint & Color Works appears to have mixed and made their own paints. This circa 1890s broadside is in mint condition, and features 25 swatches of paint, each  color  individually  painted by hand. The broadside was printed by a local printer, M.R. Savage.

Little Rock Paint Works appealed to its market in several ways: the ‘ready-mixed’ feature would have significantly cut the time a painter spent preparing his paint, especially on larger jobs. The company also boasts itself as the “Manufacturer of the  Arkansaw  Traveler,” which we speculate is a reference to a paint color cleverly named after the then-ubiquitous pop culture icon. Finally, the fine presentation of 25 richly saturated color samples would have appealed to consumers. The dominant color among these “popular shades and colors” is green, which appears in a dozen varying olive and sage tones, as well as teal and emerald green. Other popular colors include earth tones  and  a bright and bold orange.

The company’s trading card (a traditional form of advertising) features five color swatches of varying shades of brown and earthy reds. They are advertised on the back of the card as “Iron Clad Paint,” with the suggested use for “Wood or Iron Bridges, Tin and Iron Roofs, Agricultural Implements, Cars, Barns...” Minerals  like  lead and iron were used in paints for their exceptional binding properties.

Child’s cape and  dress
Maker unknown
Likely Arkansas
ca. 1860
Wool, silk, cotton
26 ½ x 15 in. (dress); 31 ½ x 15 in. (cape)
Accession No: ND171

Tastemakers  and  Trends: Where did 19th century tastemakers find inspiration for this style?

Flamboyant details borrowed from military uniforms inspired clothing styles for women and children in the mid-19th  century. The elaborate braid trim used on European Hussar jackets and a distinctive uniform style used by the French Zouaves became fashion staples in the 1850s and 1860s. The many details of this girl’s sized military-inspired cape and dress closely mimic similar outfits worn by fashionable women of the time. Although this ensemble was likely made in Arkansas, far away from the fashion centers of eastern states, the maker had ready access to current styles of the day through lady’s magazines. Arkansas newspapers of the 1860s advertise wool and braided trim available in a rainbow of colors, giving our seamstress a variety of options available locally.

Today, red and green color pairings are most often associated with the Christmas season, but in the 19th  century, tastemakers felt that pairing contrasting colors from the color wheel created visual balance. “Green and scarlet harmonize”, wrote  George  Audsley  in his 1870 book  Color in Dress: A Manual for Ladies. Victorians married tones of red and green in their quilts, needlework, clothing, art, and interior decor with striking results.  The color red was often used in elegant evening wear and winter coats. It conjured thoughts of energy, emotion, and passion and came into fashion through inspiration from military uniforms and hunting livery. To the Victorians, green evoked a much different response. Green symbolized youth, spring, and calm, and when used as an accent, made a wonderful foil for fiery red.

Originally made by Cherokee students
Painted  over time by members of the  Washbourne  family
Russellville, AR
Yellow pine, metal
84 x 62 x 19 in.
Courtesy of the  Arkansas Tech Museum

Tastemakers and Trends:  Why does this cupboard have a “rainbow” of colors?

This crudely constructed cupboard was made either by members of the  Washbourne  family and/or Cherokee students at the Dwight Mission, near Russellville (Pope County), Arkansas, around 1820-1829. Frontier furniture was crafted for functionality – which dictated a simple form.  And though American interior design continued to evolve with new fads, these essential pieces of furniture were not cast aside, but were instead updated to reflect the tastes of the times.

The paint strips on this cupboard reflect the changing tastes of the American household from its construction date, 1820-1829, to its last coat of paint in 1947.  In the 1820s, the exuberant trend of Fancy decoration was at an all-time high. The general rule was to choose pieces and materials that animated an interior. Wood furniture was often constructed out of whatever material was on hand, such as yellow pine, and then painted to mimic another finer wood material, such as mahogany. As new green and yellow pigments became commercially available, these colors were applied to furniture.  No colors or combinations were too adventurous. As today, trends waxed and waned.  While brown and more sober hues came back into vogue during the 1850s to 1870s, bright and bold colors, such as this green strip, made their return in the late 1870s to 1890s. Neutral colors once again returned to popularity around the turn of the century, and “drab” colors mimicking natural materials, like camel brown, once again dominated the household.

Mrs. John  Drennen  (née  Emily  Deadrick  Stuart)
Attributed to George Catlin
Van Buren, Crawford Co., Arkansas
ca. 1834
Oil on linen
38 x 33 in.
Accession  No: 2005.12.50
Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council  Grant Purchase

Tastemakers  and  Trends:  Why is Mrs . Drennen  wearing black?

“Dress” in 19th century terms refers to the total look, from head to toe. “Day dress” was more casual than morning attire, while evening wear or “full dress” was considered the most formal mode. Day dresses were frequently made of colorful wool or cotton prints, but black continued to be popular due to its associations with piety and traditional formal dress.

During the early 19th century when this portrait was painted, true black was a difficult color to produce in textiles. Cheap dyes made of oak galls, walnuts, or blackberries faded almost immediately into orange or dark gray, respectively. The best and most expensive method was triple-dipping (once in blue, yellow, and then red vats of dye). A simpler process combined indigo and a deep red dye from a Central American tree called logwood to create a more permanent, less expensive dark black. In this portrait, Mrs. Drennen  wears a black day dress with a low neckline, a pointed bodice, and tight-fitting sleeves that balloon out at the elbow. The 1830s were a transitional decade in fashion, spanning the years between the end of the Regency era and the beginning of the Victorian era. In the early 1830s, ballooning “gigot” or “leg-of-mutton” sleeves were considered fashionable, but by 1836, the gigot sleeve shrank, and the upper sleeve was drawn into tight horizontal rows of puffed shirring. Mrs.  Drennen  wears an embroidered cotton or linen bertha around her shoulders for modesty, closed with a decorative brooch at the center of her chest.

Overmantle looking glass (mirror)
Maker unknown
Owned by the Woodruff Family of Little Rock, AR
United States
Compo, bole, wood, gold, modern mirror glass
54 ¾ x 44 in.
Accession No: 2018.30
Gift of Swannee Bennett

Tastemakers  and  Trends:  Why are there Romans on this mirror?

The second half of the 18th century in Europe witnessed the rising influence of classical antiquity on aesthetics and artistic style. As artists and aristocrats began touring, and subsequently copying, the great works and monuments of antiquity, the neoclassical style was born. This mix of first-hand observation and the reproduction of classical works dominated European art, architecture, and the decorative arts. Neoclassical designs had an immediate and broad influence  on  American interiors,  and the “antique” taste was utilized by craftsmen  in their own creations.  To furnish the neoclassical style, ancient forms were transformed into gilt ornament. The gold finish was meant to mimic the golden accents  recently  rediscovered on Roman ruins. Only the elite were fortunate  enough  to purchase antiquities to decorate their homes,  but  cabinetmakers and other artisans transformed their creations to pass as the real things. This mirror is a mix of both.

The bas-relief frieze panel, featuring a scene of Roman centurions riding a chariot drawn by lions, warriors and cherubs, was inspired by classical Roman mythology. This scene is flanked by fluted columns with Corinthian capitals. The gilding of the piece added another mystical element mimicking classical antiquities. Gilding is the application of metal finishes to metal, wood, glass, or ceramics. This frame was probably water and oil gilded onto a bole-prepared compo surface. Compo (composition) was a popular material for molded ornament, as it was faster to produce than carved wood and more stable for gilding.

Painted flour bin
Maker unknown
Jefferson or Pulaski County, Arkansas
ca. 1875
Southern yellow pine, paint, iron hinges
36 x 42 ½ x 14 ½ in.
Accession No: 98.11.2
Gala Purchase honoring Ginger and  Adron  Crews

Tastemakers and Trends:  How did the paint on this bin function in a mid-19th  century kitchen?

The white paint on this bin oxidized over its original emerald green undercoat, transforming into a crackled yellow-cream. When the museum acquired the piece in 1995, it  arrived  well-aged, distressed to perfection from over 100 years of use. But back in the 1870s when it was made, its sturdy Southern yellow pine base was given a slick, shiny coat of paint. For a piece so heavily used (it likely stored flour), a freshly painted surface was much easier to wipe down and keep clean than bare wood. This “sanitary aesthetic” factored significantly into mid-Victorian era home furnishings, especially in work spaces like the kitchen.

Sanitary campaigns of the mid-Victorian era promoted hygiene in the home and associated sunlight and brightness with cleanliness. They marked the beginning of a slow shift from the dim, shadowy interiors of earlier days, which were thought to trap dust and conceal germs. The application of paint to surfaces like furniture also conveyed cleanliness and hygiene.

Innovations in paint production helped popularize painted surfaces; as an alternative to traditional oil based paint, which had a more matte finish, 19th  century paint manufacturers offered zinc oxide as a non-toxic base with a sheen for enamel paints. A second choice was soft distemper, which was reversible and required a re-coating after a year or two of use.


Peter Hanger’s velvet parlor carpet
Manufacturer unknown
Probably American
ca. 1860
Wool and linen
13 x 11 ¼ in.
Accession No: 87.70.17
Gift of Charles and Rebecca Witsell

Tastemakers  and  Trends:  How did 19th-century Americans use carpets to enliven their decor?

Few original 19th century carpets survived the ravages of moths, water damage, heavy foot traffic, and efforts to repurpose even the most worn fragments. This well-used carpet section was found in the attic of the historic Frederick Hanger House at 1010 Scott Street in Little Rock with a hand-written inscription penned by Frances Marion Hanger, daughter-in-law of early Arkansas settler Peter Hanger, describing the carpet’s origins. In 1859, Peter Hanger acquired 160 acres east of downtown Little Rock, as well as a Greek Revival home that he called  Oakwood, which was located on what is now the south side of the 1400 block of East 9th Street. According to Frances’s inscription, Peter Hanger ordered several thousand dollars’ worth of goods during the Civil War, but this velvet carpet was the only article in the order to make it down the Mississippi River before it was blockaded by Union Troops in 1863.

Velvet carpet is a high-end tapestry carpet with a low pile. Most middle-class families used flat-woven ingrain carpet, but affluent homes were decorated with pricier carpets, including  Wiltons, Brussels, Axminsters, and tapestries. Wills and estate inventories confirm the practice of reserving quality floorcoverings for the most public rooms of a house, with the best carpet saved for the formal parlor where guests were entertained and weddings, funerals, and other events were held. This velvet carpet was probably installed wall-to-wall in the parlor of Peter Hanger’s antebellum home,  Oakwood. The original colors would  have  included cream, orange, maroon, golden yellow, and brown in an arabesque design.

Reproduction ingrain carpet
Brunschwig & Fils, New York
Wool 22 x 20 in.
Reproduced in 2004
Based on 1840s carpet from Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, IL
Accession No: R2005.002           

Tastemakers and  Trends:  Is this carpet gaudy or tasteful?

“Two colors only, with the dark and light shades of each, will make a very handsome carpet,” wrote “Miss Leslie” in her 1854 edition of  The Lady’s House Book. Mid-19th century American design critics like Leslie praised ingrain carpets with various shades of green and red.  Although this carpet may seem gaudy to contemporary eyes, the pairing of red and green was especially popular in the 1840s and 50s, in home furnishings and fashion alike. It is no accident that on the color wheel, red and green lie opposite each other and are thereby considered complementary.

A home-furnishings fever spread across America when this ingrain carpet was manufactured. For the first time, Americans were experiencing an age of public taste in which they could actively cultivate an aesthetic for their home. Thanks to mass production, now most  people—not just the wealthy few—could afford to decorate their interiors. Wallpaper, carpeting, and furniture arrived in Little Rock on steamboats from factories in Cincinnati and New Orleans.

The average  Arkansas settler  probably  grew up in a home with bare or painted pine floors.  But by the 1840s, almost everyone  could afford to deck his home wall-to-wall with carpet.  Samples arrived in mail-order catalogs, and merchants  offered goods in great variety in their storefront windows. Given this new opportunity,  a person  might enthusiastically choose carpet bursting in colors and geometric patterns.  The antebellum home of James  McVicar  (located on the museum grounds)  features this  reproduction carpet in the parlor.






Roderweis front parlor
Photographer unknown
Jacksonville, AR
Photographic print
9 x 11 in.
Accession No: 96.49.3
Gift of the Estate of Ina Dupree

Tastemakers and Trends: What colors do you imagine in this Victorian parlor?

The  Roderweis  family (pictured) represented the up-and-coming, stylish middle class of late 19th century Americans. John Roderweis, the head of this German immigrant family and a carpenter by trade, built his home and surely beamed with pride at this accomplishment. His family fittingly posed for the camera inside their fully-furnished front parlor, the heart of the home. The family displays some of its prized personal possessions, including a piano, Bible, and gilt-framed family portraits. It’s the kind of cluttered, romantic nest that characterized so many bourgeois Victorian homes.

It’s hard to tell from the original black-and-white photograph that this late 19th century Victorian parlor was full of color, from floor to wall to tabletop. But a closer examination shows that nature-inspired floral and vine-like patterns climb almost every surface and furnishing. Cozy chaos came to define Victorian interiors. Attention to scale and a warm, subdued color palette helped harmonize an otherwise dizzyingly cluttered living space. Design critics from the period praised wallpaper and carpet manufacturers’ use of soft or “drabbed” color combinations, and denounced the bold contrasting colors of the mid-19th century.  A wall covering, for example, was not meant to be a showstopper, but rather contributed to the atmosphere of a room.

We reimagined the  Roderweis parlor with the help of William Doran, a  professional colorist who digitally applied color to a high-resolution scan of the print.  The tones in our retouched image appear a bit louder and bolder than they would have looked in real life, which is a trait common to both modern and historical photo colorizations.