Left: Lady’s hat made by Arnold Donor (ca.1915), Collection of The New-York Historical Society 1956.21 (Photograph by Primi Akhtar). Right: World map for year 1877, iStock/THEPALMER.

Obscured Origins

Unveiling the Narrative behind the Labor, Extraction, and Usage of Material Objects

In the midst of elite accumulation of wealth and objects in the First Gilded Age, mass consumerism, easy accessibility of quality merchandise in the Second Gilded Age, the narratives of many objects are veiled in a culture of marketed luxury. The aesthetic use of an object has obscured the historical significance, labor processes, and extraction of materials, by presenting a facade of luxury and vain beauty.

By exploring objects from the First Gilded Age, such as goggles, a hat, and hairpins, and objects from the Second Gilded Age, such as a lab coat, fur coat, and human hair weave, we hope to uncloak narratives from a historical, labor, and material perspective. By uncloaking these narratives we hope to acknowledge the realities produced and impacted by the Second Gilded Age—beyond New York City’s elite. Who were these goggles intended to serve before they become a fashion statement? Where is human hair for the weaves coming from before it reaches the salons? What is the tactic used to hunt birds-of-paradise in New Guinea for the production of bird hats? Answering these questions addresses the less extravagant side of objects revealing the impact of Gilded Age excess on non-wealthy communities and environments.

Objects from this theme:

Click the thumbnails below to learn more about these objects.

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