By Rebecca Romanchuk, ArchivistSome of us are enjoying the cooler weather we’ve been having in Austin lately and the way it makes us feel the holiday season has really arrived. For most, the holidays are made more festive and meaningful by the foods we prepare and share with others: traditional dishes at family dinners, potluck parties with friends and coworkers, cookie exchanges, and volunteering for or contributing to organizations that provide meals to those in need. Food truly connects us all.
At the Texas State Archives, we’re putting the spotlight on the history of Texas agriculture and foodstuffs in our lobby exhibit Setting the Texas Table, on view through May 2019. You’re cordially invited to visit in person to see this diverse and professionally curated exhibit of original archival materials and selections from our library collection, or take a virtual tour through the online version linked in the logo below. Be prepared to have your appetite whetted!
Of course, you can’t set a table without dishes and various other tableware items. The State Archives’ Artifacts collection includes a number of such pieces, many with connections to the family of Texas Governor Elisha Marshall Pease. These are easily searched for in the Texas Digital Archive; go to the Artifacts collection main search page and enter keywords in the “search within” box, or begin filtering using the options on the left sidebar. You can search for soup bowls, saucers, coffee cups and teacups, demitasse and sake cups, coffee pots and pitchers, plates and platters, and even a chafing dish (anyone hungry yet?). Or, note the artifact number (ATF0###) of an item that interests you in the finding aid and use that as your keyword to go directly to digital images and description of that item.
Many of the Pease table items are of two different Victorian-era designs: floral flow blue and what may be pink Sunderland lusterware (described as “orchid pink and white” in the Artifacts description). Both are varieties of transferware pottery made in England and commonly exported to the United States in the 19th century. The designs were produced by inking a copper plate onto which the design had been engraved, pressing paper onto the inked plate, then applying the still-wet inked paper onto the ceramic piece to transfer the design to it. This process was much less expensive than hand-painting. Imagine the dining table at the Governor’s Mansion or at Woodlawn, the Pease family mansion, laid out with a full set of either of these designs. Victorians adored vibrant color!
Take a close look at the transfer pattern on the pink dessert dishes below. This is the Mother’s Grave design, featuring a boy and girl, with an accompanying small child, gazing mournfully at a gravestone in a picturesque churchyard setting. Mourning pieces such as these were commonly used by Victorian households to memorialize a departed family member. These dishes honor the daughter of Governor and First Lady Pease, Carrie Augusta Pease Graham, whose children came to live at Woodlawn to be raised by their grandmother and aunt, after their mother’s death in 1882. Descendants of those children donated the Pease tableware to the State Archives. They said Carrie Graham’s children hoped that all these dishes would be broken so they wouldn’t have to eat from them any longer. It’s easy to empathize with that wish, though we’re lucky to have these objects survive to provide a glimpse into the personal experiences of the Pease/Graham family and the traditions of the time. You can learn more about one of the Graham children, businessman and prominent Austin citizen R. Niles Graham, and his extended family from his collection of papers and photographs at the State Archives. Several dozen items once belonging to the Graham family are also part of our Artifacts collection.
Enjoy exploring all the charming tableware in the Artifacts collection and setting your own table to welcome others during the holidays.