Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Using American decorative motifs.

You can re-capture some of the ambiance of America's colonial and Greek Revival period by encorporating traditional American motifs in your decorating. Actually, most of these motifs have continued to be popular throughout every period of our country's history and are at home in almost every decor. They can even be adapted to today's contemporary style of decorating.

Even if you don't live in the U.S., you may want to study these motifs. Many of them were used in Great Britian and Europe. Some would have been equally at home in Jane Austin's parlor as in Martha Washington's.

Obviously, the most distinctive American motif have a pattern reminiscent of our flag. Many people use these year round. Some people don't use them everyday, but they bring them out for Memorial Day, Labor Day, and, of course, the Fourth of July. An American flag motif is always at home in any style of American house. Please note: If you are displaying an actual flag, be sure to look up the traditions and regulations concerning the proper use of a flag.

The second most common American motif -- used in abundace during our federal and Greek Revival periods -- is the eagle. Please note the eagle needlework kit from Bruscilla above.

If you live in the South, you're already acquainted with the fact that Southernors have always considered the pineapple to be a symbol of hospitality. Note the pineapple above. It appeared on the outside of plantation home on the James River. Plantation owners in the South often had similar pineapples set on columns at the entrance to the drive to their home. Pineapples were and are used inside as well.

You will find pineapples in many of today's exteriors and interiors, as well. See the pineapple candleholders from Silicon Interiors above.

Pineapples are no longer symbols that are exclusive to the South or to Hawaii. Americans everywhere use them to say, "Welcome to our home."

At the same time that pineapples were first highly popular here in the U.S. as signs of hospitality, they were also somewhat popular in Great Britain.

When you decorate for Christmas, do you think of pineapples? If you live in Colonical Williamsburg's, you do. No one knows exactly how that custom got started, but it continues on to today. (Old Williamsburg seeks to keep a colonial ambiance, so they use lots and lots of natural Christmas decorations). See the Christmas wreath above for an example of how you can incorporate the pineapple into your Christmas decorating.

Because the pineapple gives its life to produce a single fruit, some people began incorporating pineapple designs into church buildings in the 1600's. Some speculate that that may be the reason Colonial Williamsburg came to associate the pineapple with Christmas.

Colonial womend decorated with shell motifs on furniture and tableware, family portraits, and samplers that the young ladies of the home made in order to perfect their skills with a needle. Many colonial homes, especially up and down the east coast, had items brought to the U.S. from Aisia and other exotic ports. Ginger jars, chinese porcelain, ivory, and scrimshaw are examples.

Here's an exotic bit of old South decorating: For some reason, many Southern farms and plantations used to keep peacocks, which were allowed to roam freely in the sideyards. I'm not sure how this very old tradition came to be; I've heard it dates from antebellum (pre-Civil-War days). When I was a child, I had relatives who still kept peacocks. We used to collect the feathers and put them in vases to make decorative arrangements.

Remember, if you seek to re-create a historically colonial or early American feeling, use accessories and decorating motifs with restraint. Our early homes were based on ideals of classic design. Also, if your decorating style is contemporary or sleekly modern, avoid over-doing decorative motifs. However, if your home has a cottage, romantic, or country-style feel, you can use any of these decorating motifs in abundance. Study photographs of rooms decorated in different styles to get a feel for what is appropriate for your home.

Even after our colonial and early American days ended, we continued to pick up distincly American decorating motifs along the way. While you need to be careful not to mix the following elements too freely, all have all been popular sources of decorative motifs in our U.S. history at one time or another: designs taken from Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish cultures, native American weavings and jewelry, African American fabrics and designs, Southwestern ranch motifs, furniture carved with rice motifs (especially in the Low Country South), furniture carved with wheat motifs, and various stencils of vines, hearts, etc.; furit, acorns, flowers, and birds.


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