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The Department of English is pleased to announce an exhibit, curated by our very own Rebecca Olsen, on view at Winterthur through October 31.
Plant One on Me: A History of Houseplants A Winterthur Library Exhibit On view through October 31st
A succulent on a sunny windowsill. A fern in a misty terrarium. An orchid as a table centerpiece. These familiar plants also lived in nineteenth-century homes, loved by their nineteenth-century gardeners.
Houseplants were immensely popular in the nineteenth-century Anglo-American world, with much of contemporary houseplant horticulture tracing its origins to nineteenth-century Britain. The plants themselves, however, came from across the globe, transported by ship and train. Plant hunters harvested new varieties of exotic plants from the British Empire's vast global territorial holdings. With Britain's influence on markets and trends, newly cultivated varieties made their way across trade routes and onto American windowsills. Writing on houseplant gardening subsequently soared in popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. Garden authors wrote of houseplants both as decorative objects to beautify the home, and as companions which provided comfort and cheer. Though the maximalist intensity of nineteenth-century plant collecting gave way to more subtle houseplants in much of the twentieth century, plants have remained a regular fixture in the home.
Plant One on Me: A History of Houseplants highlights holdings from the Winterthur Library connected to British and American houseplant culture across the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. Items on display—including books, magazines, ephemera, and photographs—show how people advertised, wrote about, and cared for houseplants.
About the Curator: Rebecca Olsen is a PhD Candidate in English at the University of Delaware whose research interests include nineteenth-century British literature and culture, environmental humanities, and material culture studies. Her doctoral dissertation explores the relationships between printed texts and lived practices—for example, how a gardening text might reimagine Victorian motherhood, or how a novel might depict human medical practices used on beloved animal pets. She is currently a University Dissertation Fellow for 2021-2022.
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