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"Tabletop to TV Tray: China & Glass in America, 1880-1980"
2000-07-23 until 2001-01-07
Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, TX, USA

Have you ever wondered what stories your grandmother's would tell if it could talk? Or, why is it that brides continue to register for formal china that they'll rarely useNULL Tabletop to TV Tray: China and Glass in America, 1880-1980, on view at the Dallas Museum of Art from Sunday, July 23, 2000, to Sunday, January 7, 2001, explores the changes in American culture and how it impacted dinnerware, table settings and etiquette, including the invention of the bridal registry by retailer Marshall Fields in the 1930s. More than 500 examples of plates, bowls, jugs, glasses and goblets will be on display. The exhibition expands on the nostalgia of everyday objects with pieces depicting the change from formal to fast dining and spanning the range from utilitarian to unique, including Fiesta ware, Pyrex and Jackie Onassis's china. The exhibition was organized by the DMA and includes many items from the Museum's permanent collection.

This exhibition explores how our everyday household items, such as plates, cookware and glasses, transformed with the changing society, said Dr. Charles Venable, deputy director and curator of Decorative Arts for the DMA and co-curator of the exhibition. It's amazing to see that in less than 100 years, our society changed from one of a formal sit-down dinner every night to one of convenience and fast food.

From Formal to Fast

At the turn of the century, the formal Victorian era of perfect presentation and etiquette made its way into American culture. With this came the need for books detailing the proper way of serving food, table settings and proper dishes to be served. It was not uncommon for the evening meal to be as lavish as a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. With the onset of casual dining in the 1920s, Fiesta ware became (and still is) one of the most popular lines of dinnerware and demonstrates the dramatic change from formal Victorian dinnerware to functional, everyday dinnerware. More than 50 pieces of Fiesta ware will be on display at Tabletop to TV Tray. All through the 20th century, the experimentation of shape and materials played an important role in the dinnerware market, with specialty pieces for corn on the cob, lobster and dishes made especially for the refrigerator. With the widespread use of the television in the 1960s, the TV tray and TV dinners were introduced.

The American Pie

In order to keep up with the demand for china, American manufacturers had to continuously strive to create beautiful, innovative patterns that are strong and durable. During the 1880s, American colonists imported Chinese porcelain, but at the turn of the century, American manufacturers battled with foreign companies for their own slice of The American Pie. During the Great Depression, the designs for china were simplified while being sensitive to the economic hardships. One of America's premier makers of china, Lennox, changed its marketing and production substantially after World War II to create appeal to a broad cross section of customers. The Libbey Glass Company in New England, with pieces on display in Tabletop to TV Tray, was known as one of the premier glass manufacturers with many of its products featuring time-consuming, hand-carved designs. After World War II, American glassmakers enjoyed the prosperity of being one of the few in production because European factories did not return to production immediately after the war.

Foreign Invasion

In the months after the last World War, foreign imports of china and glass were down. Once importing started up again, crystal from France, Belgium and Holland were must-have items for wealthy hostesses, including Princess Grace of Monaco, as seen on display in Tabletop to TV Tray. Although French porcelain as a whole never recaptured the American public's eye after World War I, Theodore Haviland & Co., a French manufacturer, managed to survive. The dinnerware import industry was not immune to the various taxes and tariffs imposed on imports during the 20th century. The Underwood-Sherman tariff of 1913 was the first to differentiate between refined earthenware and porcelain. Earthenware and stoneware were taxable at 35 and 40 percent for undecorated and decorated ware, porcelain was taxed at 50 and 55 percent, and glass was taxed at 45 percent.

From Warehouse to Your House

Producing beautiful dinnerware was only half the battle. The other half was getting the pieces into the homes of the public. Special trunks were designed for wholesale salesman to carry samples and the refinement of railway made it convenient for salesman to travel their territory. Permanent showrooms soon began replacing the traveling salesman as a way to sell their product. Another variable on the showroom concept was the trade show. The earliest and most important was the Pittsburgh glass and pottery show held each January from 1880 to 1958. Retailers like Crate & Barrel established an identity with their look, displaying dinnerware in wooden crates and barrels when the company opened in 1962. Dinnerware marketers also discovered a new avenue for distribution - a gift with purchase. In the 1950s, Knox gas stations in Oklahoma gave patrons porcelain dishes featuring Native Americans as purchase premiums.

Designer Dishes

Throughout the century, the aesthetics of a piece were just as important, if not more important, than the functionality. At the turn of the century, delicate French porcelain and bold cut glass entered its final phase. After the war, luxury items such as Pyrex hit the market as the unbreakable miracle glass. These pieces were designed to be used as serving dishes as well as cookware. As the 20th century wore on, the designs of the decades became apparent in items adorned in the mustard and avocado colors of the 1960s and streamlined, modern look of the 1950s. In the 1970s and 1980s, pieces were designed to mix and match, allowing the buyer to create their own dinnerware or china set.

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