The Finest in the Western Country: Wisconsin Decorative Arts 1820-1900

Decorative Arts Gallery, Milwaukee Art Museum
September 11, 2008-January 4, 2009

Throughout the nineteenth century, the edge of the expanding United States frontier—an area known as the “Western Country”—was the site of dramatic changes in American culture and identity. The large territory that eventually became the state of Wisconsin was home to the most diverse population of this region. After 1820 immigrants poured in from Great Britain, northern and western Europe, and Scandinavia. They encountered Native groups such as the Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi, and were joined by settlers from nearby Canada as well as New England, the mid Atlantic and the upper South.

Decorative arts made in nineteenth-century Wisconsin reflect this cultural and geographic complexity. Some craftspeople kept alive time-honored ethnic traditions. Other makers turned to popular national styles and industrial modes of production to appeal to a broader and increasingly urbane customer base. Still others created unique wares that asserted individual identity and innovative vision

The Finest in the Western Country: Wisconsin Decorative Arts 1820-1900 highlights only a small portion of Wisconsin’s complex and diverse material culture. The exhibition brings together for the first time some of the most visually impressive and culturally significant objects from the broad range that has been collected, researched, and preserved by public institutions and private individuals.