Super bowls, too
With the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks set to square off in the big game on Sunday, it's time to take a look at some more of our own "super bowls," since you enjoyed it last year. Leslie Wilson and Tim Winkle share a few unique examples from the Division of Home and Community Life.
Heroes aren't just found on the gridiron. We have scores of them throughout our country's history, including this gentleman, Benjamin Franklin. Although manufactured in England in the late 18th and early 19th century, many creamware pieces, like this bowl, were produced for the burgeoning American market, and decorated with transferred images celebrating the American Revolution and its notable figures.
Here, Franklin is depicted in the famous fur cap he wore upon his arrival as a commissioner to France in the winter of 1776-77. Though perhaps the most celebrated American of his day, it was his simple mode of dress and lack of affectation that drew favorable attention in Paris salons. Franklin played up the role of the rustic, New World savant to stoke French support for his fledgling nation, resulting in the crucial treaty of alliance in 1778.
The inscription identifies the sitter as "BENJn FRANKLIN L.L.D. F.R.S."—Franklin received an honorary doctorate of law (L.L.D) from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 1759, three years after he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in London (F.R.S.). A prolific inventor, as accomplished in science as he was in diplomacy, Franklin even claimed to have conceived of an early process for the transfer of images onto ceramics, a method for "the printing of square Tiles for ornamenting chimnies [sic], from Copper Plates" similar to the method used on this bowl.
Not your average fruit bowl, this beautifully carved serving bowl (fuente de serviris) is made from the fruit of a tree commonly known in Puerto Rico as the higüero. A sturdy and abundant material, it was used to make a variety of household goods, particularly in the rural areas of the island. The irregular shape and carved design of the piece speak to its handcrafted origins. This bowl is one of over 3,000 objects donated by Teodoro Vidal Santoni in 1997, one of the largest gifts ever presented by a single individual to the museum.
Born into a prominent family, Vidal was interested in Puerto Rican history from a young age. In the early 1950s, he began collecting objects that reflected puertorriqueñidad (the unique cultural identity of Puerto Rico). In particular, Vidal wanted to preserve the material culture of everyday life, which he feared was quickly disappearing. His collecting efforts ranged from domestic items like this higüero bowl to material representing religion, traditional folk medicine, and carnival festivities.
If you plan on watching Downton Abbey instead of the big game, this may be more to your taste. Part of a six-piece tea service, this waste bowl is neoclassical in its style and a recent addition to the museum's collection. You might not use one of these pieces when you have tea, but look for them in historic settings as they were an important tool for entertaining. They provided an elegant place to deposit any waste while serving your guests a refreshment. Each piece in this service bears an engraved inscription, which reads: "Mrs. Joanna L. Howard / From a Friend / Oct. 27th 1858."
The Howards—Edwin, his wife Joanna and their three children—were a prosperous African-American family living in the fashionable (and predominantly white) West End of Boston, Massachusetts, in the 1850s and 1860s. The family was active in the anti-slavery movement, and tradition holds that Joanna Howard used this tea service in her role as hostess to luminaries in the abolition movement such as Frederick Douglass and Wendell Philips. An article in a 1902 edition of the Colored American Magazine remarked on "her genial manners and sympathetic heart" and remembered her as "a valued friend to the large circle among members of her own race, as well as that class of broad, liberal-minded lovers of humanity." The "friend" who presented her with this gift, alas, remains a mystery.
Before Martha Stewart, there was Russel Wright. The industrial designer, author, and lifestyle pioneer along with his wife, Mary, helped to revolutionize the ways in which Americans ate, decorated, and entertained. This salad bowl is one component of his iconic American Modern line. Wright incorporated the biomorphic shapes often seen in Modern furniture into his design, which would become one of the best-selling dinnerware lines of all time. (In fact, you can learn more about Wright from this video on the Martha Stewart website.)
Produced by Steubenville Pottery in Ohio from 1939 until the factory closed in 1959, American Modern reportedly earned over $150 million dollars in sales over its two decades in production. The tableware was a hit with consumers and critics alike.
The inventive dishware was available "open shelf," which allowed customers to mix and match their pieces rather than having to purchase a large, uniform set. One could customize the composition and colors of their settings. It was a creative and casual approach—a far departure from the formality of fine china.
American Modern embodied the Wrights' philosophy regarding a more flexible and informal way of living which they outlined in their aptly titled, Guide to Easier Living (1950). American Modern helped homemakers introduce the Wright’s suggestions into their homes with style and functionality. The line has been reissued by Bauer Pottery and remains a popular design for tables in the 21st century.
Porringers, like this one, are an unusual type of bowl by today's standards, but were fairly standard in 18th century America. People used them much in the same way we use cereal bowls. They often held warm porridge or gruel. Older, two-handled versions of this form were made in France (called an éculle) and England (sometimes referred to as a "caudle cup"). Handles were often engraved with the owner's initials like the "O T L" seen here. This silver example was made by John Edwards (1671-1746), the patriarch of one of Boston's leading families of silversmiths.
Edwards emigrated to Boston from England with his parents around 1680. After his apprenticeship, he built a successful silversmith business known primarily for his conservative style and his work in making church silver. He was well respected in Boston as constable, assessor, and member of the city militia. At the time of his death in 1746, John Edwards' estate was worth almost £5,000, indicating that he was a very prosperous man for the time. Two of his sons, Thomas (1701-55) and Samuel (1705-62), followed their father into the family trade and also became well-known silversmiths. The museum also has another silver porringer crafted by Samuel Edwards in the collection.
Your mother or grandmother may have served snacks from a set like this one. The Tupperware bowl has become so commonplace in American homes, it's hard to imagine that it represents a revolutionary kitchen tool. With airtight lids that sealed with the "Tupperware burp," these bowls changed the way women shopped, cooked, and stored food starting in the 1940s.
Designer and inventor Earl S. Tupper devised the product with a seal based on paint cans and made out of polyethylene, a material previously used in gas masks during World War II. These mass produced containers capitalized on emerging plastics technology to help extend the shelf life of their contents which saved time and money for the American housewife. Tupper's "wares" also had a modern look, reflecting the streamlined design aesthetic of the period.
Tupper's business experienced tremendous growth with the help of a Brownie. Brownie Wise, a divorced mother from Detroit, Michigan, supplemented her income by selling Tupperware at hostess parties. She was wildly successful and in 1951, Tupper put her in charge of this division within his company. Wise further developed the concept, making the Tupperware brand synonymous with the "house" or "hostess party" method of direct sales.
Leslie A. Wilson is a Museum Specialist in the Division of Home and Community Life at the National Museum of American History. She is a graduate of the Smithsonian Institution-George Mason University Master of Arts program in the History of Decorative Arts. Tim Winkle is an Associate Curator in the Division of Home and Community Life. He has also blogged about a Masonic mystery and historic fire prevention.