Gilded Age on display

KNOXVILLE—The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, opens the new exhibition “Fish Forks and Fine Furnishings: Consumer Culture in the Gilded Age,” on May 26, 2017.

The American Gilded Age, defined in the exhibition as 1870-1900, saw rapid growth in mass manufacturing, trade and travel—all of which gave Americans greater access to, and interest in, goods from around the world.

From fish forks and fashionable dress to furniture and fine china, the exhibition explores the personal and household objects that served as visible symbols of wealth, power and social class. The 100-plus objects in the exhibit point to the great changes that were occurring in America at the time, and also to our continuing preoccupation with the objects we choose to buy, wear and display. Image: Three-piece Afternoon Dress, c. 1880s, American, maker unknown. Cotton, velvet, silk. Gift of G.P. Gaut, 1947. Photo courtesy McClung Museum.

“The period’s fixation on wearing the right dress or setting an elegant table is no different than today’s focus on having the right style for one’s home or consuming the right foods or status bag as dictated by Pinterest, celebrities or the thousands of lifestyle gurus that all seem to have blogs and personal brands,” said Catherine Shteynberg, museum assistant director. Shteynberg curated the exhibit with curatorial assistant Melinda Narro.

The exhibit will include an installation of Knoxville native Frederick Bonham’s parlor in the Plaza Hotel in New York City, period dress and accessories, an array of unusual serving utensils and a formal dining table arrangement, and imported goods from across the world. Objects were collected by area families and come from the McClung Museum’s permanent collections, the UT Special Collections Library and the Museum of East Tennessee History.

The McClung Museum is located at 1327 Circle Park Drive. Museum admission is free, and the museum’s hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Groups may schedule tours by calling 865-974-2144 or emailing

Free two-hour museum parking passes are available from the parking information booth at the entrance to Circle Park Drive on weekdays by request. Free parking is available on Circle Park Drive on a first-come, first-served basis on weekends. Free public transportation to the museum is also available via the Knoxville Trolley Vol Line.

For more information about the McClung Museum and its collections and exhibits, visit