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Art of the Tearoom

The Tea Room, which is believed to have been re-designed by Madelene Maus and the Schafs between 1903 and 1905, displays striking elements of the Italian Renaissance style. Based on the art and architecture of the Romans, the style is reflected in the use of volutes in the brackets of the sideboard and fireplace, the entablatures with dentils along the sides of the room and above the sideboard and fireplace, the wooden beams of the ceilings fashioned into geometric patterns, the panels of arabesque carvings in the ceiling, and the restored painted frieze featuring arabesques and game birds.

The design of the substantial sideboard and iconography in the frieze also illustrate the Victorian/Edwardian style of dining room. The house has a large butler’s pantry between the dining room and kitchen, so the symbolism of the sideboard goes beyond the storage function; The large size, prominent place, and elaborate design speak of affluence and the importance of fine dining in Victorian and Edwardian culture. The windowed storage area and large serving space gave room for display of beautiful objects and sumptuous foods. Imagery related to food held a prominent place in dining rooms at the beginning of the 20th century, illustrating abundance from the land and sea, including poultry, fish, grapes and other fruits. That the poultry and fish are depicted as just harvested illustrates the Victorian view of nature at the service of humanity. Grapes illustrate the abundance of wine and swags of fruit show the bounty of the harvest. It would seem natural to have depictions of barley and hops in a beer brewer’s dining room, but none have been found yet.

The distinctive Rookwood facing of the fireplace offers a contrast to the

Renaissance motifs in the rest of the room, bringing an element of the American Arts and Crafts movement into the dining experience. Maria Longworth Nichols founded the Rookwood Tile Company in Cincinnati in the early 1880s. Nichols was a potter in the Arts and Crafts style and focused on making useful articles also beautiful. She developed an appreciation for Japanese art at the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition. The fireplace design, of flamingos wading through a bed of anthurium, or flamingo flowers, has been attributed to John D. Wareham, an artist at the Rookwood Potter Company.

Rose Wernicke (with contributions from Jim Glass)

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