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Fish Fork, 19th century, Russian, maker unknown. Sterling silver and ivory. Lent by Jeff Chapman.

UT’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture opens the new exhibition Fish Forks and Fine Furnishings: Consumer Culture in the Gilded Age on May 26.

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. Despite ongoing income disparity, the middle class grew. What one owned or had the ability to buy became important to one’s identity.

From fish forks and fashionable dress to furniture and fine china, this 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.

Photograph of Viola F. Snyder and Ellen McClung, 1890, Le Rue Lemer Studio, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Carte de visite. Bequest of Judge John Webb Green and Ellen McClung Green, 1957.3.628.1.

“The period’s fixation on wearing the right dress or setting an elegant table is no different than today’s focus on have 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. Shtenyberg 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.

Exhibition programming will include:

  • June 12—“Tea Time with Toddlers,” a free stroller tour, 10 a.m. at the museum. Register online.
  • June 24— “Mind Your Manners” free Family Fun Day, 1 to 4 p.m. at the museum.
  • July 10—“Say Cheese,” a free stroller tour, 10 a.m. at the museum. Register online.
  • July 15—“Gilded vs. Golden” free Family Fun Day, 1 to 4 p.m. at the museum.
  • July 16—Free talk about the Gilded Age by UT History Department Senior Lecturer Pat Rutenberg, 2 p.m. at the museum.
  • July 21—“Lost and Found” luncheon lecture with curator Catherine Shteynberg at the office of Knox Heritage, Historic Westwood, 3435 Kingston Pike, at 11:30 a.m. Parking is free next door at the Laurel Church of Christ. The free lunch buffet begins at 11:30 a.m. and the program will begin at noon. To make a lunch reservation, contact Hollie Cook at 865-523-8008 or
  • August 17— “All that Glitters” Gilded Age Cocktail Party, 6 to 8 p.m., at the museum. The event will include period-appropriate appetizers and cocktails from Knox Whiskey Works, live music, mini-tours of the exhibition, and vintage table-styling demos with Rebecca Ridner of the Hive assisted by Megan Stair. Tickets are available online. Cost is $50 for members and $60 for nonmembers, and a portion of each ticket charge is tax deductible. Proceeds will benefit the museum’s free educational programming.
Three-piece Afternoon Dress, c. 1880s, American, maker unknown. Cotton, velvet, silk. Gift of G. P. Gaut, 1947.8.37.

Fish Forks and Fine Furnishings: Consumer Culture in the Gilded Age is presented by  Home Federal Bank, the Henley and Peggy Tate Museum Fund, and Clarence Brown Theatre. Additional support is provided by Knox County, the City of Knoxville, and the Arts and Heritage Fund.

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

C O N T A C T :

Catherine Shteynberg (

Stacy Palado (865-974-2143,