|Pennsylvania State Building|
In explaining the reasons behind Massachusetts’s choice of architectural style, the Board of Managers described its “air of aristocratic distinction and reserve and dignity” while still retaining “a homelike and comfortable appearance.” States wanted their buildings to impress visitors while also presenting a welcoming exterior to fairgoers. Colonial styles, because of their associations with a historic and patriotic period in America’s past, seemed especially appropriate for official buildings.
|Massachusetts State Building|
Except for Virginia’s building (the only one that was a true replica inside and out), none of the state buildings attempted to recreate an accurate colonial interior. The state buildings had to serve a variety of functions, and needed office space, meeting and reception rooms, and restrooms which could not be accommodated in a colonial floor plan. They did, however, include colonial furniture (some antique, but mostly reproduction), woodwork, and wall and window treatments.
|Essex Institute exhibit|
Most state buildings also housed exhibits of colonial artifacts, including furniture, textiles, ceramics, and portraits. For example, the Essex Institute of Salem contributed an exhibit for the Massachusetts State Building that included 41 pieces of furniture from the 16th through the early 19th centuries, pictures “showing well-known houses in Salem and representative of the various styles of architecture in use in Colonial and pre-Revolutionary times,” and 10 display cases crammed full of coins and paper currency, almanacs, pamphlets, newspapers, needlework, manuscripts (sermons, letters, account books), medals, snuffboxes, shoe buckles, and more.
|“Mother Southwick” and her assistants|
|“The Ripe Fruit of Freedom”|
|Virgina’s Mount Vernon|
The enormous size and location of the Columbian Exposition, and its massive attendance, were significant factors in the popularization of the Colonial Revival. The Fair received over 20 million visitors--more than twice as many as had visited the Centennial. Many of them were people who had had little or no exposure to the historical sites of the original thirteen colonies, and the novelty of the style attracted much attention. The wide variety of regional colonial architectural styles and colonial artifacts, gathered together in the heart of the midwest, helped to solidify the Colonial as the country’s national style.
It seems quite likely that the World’s Fair was one of Alice Trainer’s first encounters with the Colonial Revival. Though it would be another ten years before she became a collector, the boom in research and publications about the colonial era that was triggered by the Fair would provide valuable resources when she began to gather items for her Colonial Collection.
The photos of the state buildings and the Liberty Bell are taken from the Field Museum Library’s flickr album.
The photo of the Essex Institute exhibit comes from the Report of the Massachusetts Board of World's Fair Managers.
The photo of Emma Southwick Brinton and her assistants is from the Smithsonian’s collection, and is reproduced in The Colonial Revival in America.
Much of the information in this piece is drawn from Susan Prendergast Schoelwer, “Curious Relics and Quaint Scenes: The Colonial Revival at Chicago’s Great Fair,” an essay in The Colonial Revival in America.