Historical Perspectives On The Colonial Revival In Progressive Era America

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“Whatever is new, Is bad”: Historical Perspectives on the Colonial Revival in Progressive Era America

The Colonial Revival is a phenomenon that materialized as a national expression of

American culture from the 1870s to its peak between 1880 and 1940. The Colonial Revival was

more about ideology, but most often manifested itself through decorative arts and architecture.

Elements of pseudo colonial furniture, arts and architecture symbolically served as tools to

promote the republican ideas of democracy, patriotism and moral superiority.

In many ways the Colonial Revival was a direct reaction to the side effects of

Industrialization and progress. Ironically, frequently participants of the revival used modern

techniques as a means to accomplish their singular goal. Historian Alan Axelrod argues,

“Colonialism is not a surface phenomenon, a thin veneer over the real body of American life,

but a network of communications and linkages that reach deep into American experience and


Historians examine the movement from various perspectives; the Colonial Revival as a

social and cultural movement, its representation in U.S. material culture, and its significance to

immigration and nationalism. Scholarship includes everything from Alan Axelrod’s The

Colonial Revival in America from 1985 to Briann G. Greenfield’s Out of the Attic: Antiques in

Twentieth-Century New England from 2009. A variety of monographs and collections of essays

will be analyzed to determine correlations and points of dissent within the historiography of the

Colonial Revival in the United States.

The Colonial Revival has also been a popular area of examination in the museum

community as evidenced by Geoffrey Rossano’s Creating a Dignified Past: Museums and the

Colonial Revival and Thomas Denenberg’s Wallace Nutting and the Invention of Old America in

particular, with sections devoted to museums treatment of the phenomenon in other readings.

Rossano’s collection of essays examines the impact of the Colonial Revival on the museum

profession. Thomas Denenberg himself is a curator of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

and his monograph Wallace Nutting’s Invention of Old America served as a
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