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The Chestnuts of Edwin Austin Abbey: History Painting and the Transference of Culture in Turn–of–the–Century America

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2009

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When edwin austin abbey, with eleven other artists and all the ritual of a new male order — round table, cob pipes, stone bottles of cider — founded the Tile Club in 1877, his sobriquet was “The Chestnut.” If not boating down the Erie Canal or on holiday in Easthampton, the men would make tiles for the home, ceramic wares of Shakespeare or rustics and florals, in the style of William Morris and his decorative arts. Twenty years before Charles Eliot Norton's Society of Arts and Crafts, such Tilers as Abbey, Augustus Saint–Gaudens, and Elihu Vedder would draw on the same crafts ideal, namely, an aesthetic for hard work and the “simple” productions of artisanal labor as an antidote to urban luxury. The club would find in guild fraternalism a weekly hobby, twelve men with sardines and crackers, noms de plume and seals, to revive a handicraft seen as both republican in its ethic and fashionably medieval. If modern life meant the enervation of Veblen's foppish and leisured class, the Tile Club was an authentically male pastime.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1999

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