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Catalog Data

41 1/2 × 29 × 13 1/4 in. (105.4 × 73.7 × 33.7 cm)
Floral frames
ca. 1879-1962
Victorian (1837-1901)
The Gates Ajar or Gates of Heaven set piece was an especially elaborate design and very popular in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. It generally ranged from two to four feet high with either pointed or rounded arches over a pair of gates. A taxidermy dove, or less commonly a star, was often placed surmounting the arch. This design was used for the funerals of both men and women. This set piece was meant to portray the entrance to the heavenly realm, and the gates were usually left open to indicate the recent departure of the spirit into heaven. Open gates also implied that the connection with those who had passed was not completely severed, and nothing stood in the way of an eventual reunion in heaven. In nineteenth-century mourning culture, symbols of departure were commonly seen such as a finger pointing heavenward, the hand of God pulling a link from the family chain, hands clasped, and Heaven's open gates. A variation of this design, the Golden Way, incorporated a pathway in the foreground. Inscriptions were frequently included on the platform base of Gates Ajar designs such as "Gone Home.”
Label Text:
Set pieces or set designs were among the most popular floral arrangements in the second half of the nineteenth century. The term set piece is a usually applied to designs in a wide variety of forms, which are often symbolic in character. Shapes that expressed an overall theme for an occasion were very fashionable, such as designs made to depict the profession, associations, or hobbies of an individual. These flower arrangements were ordered for special celebrations, holidays, weddings, and funerals. Typical of the Victorian style, these designs were elaborate and massive, but unlike other forms of flower arrangement, the set piece was exclusively made by the professional florist.
Set pieces were usually made up on wire frames in the desired shape, which acted as a foundation for the floral arrangement. Commercially produced, heavy-gaged wire frames, fabricated from either plain or copper-plated wire, became available for flower arrangements between 1860 and 1864. The retail florist business was enhanced considerably by the high demand for arrangements on flower frames in the nineteenth century, and wire frames quickly became the basis of the retail florist’s inventory. The frames could be obtained for little cost to the florist, and if he managed to retrieve the skeleton after the occasion, it could be reused. Wire frames came in both straight and curved outlines and either as a box (three-dimensional frame) or flat frame. Most designs came in several sizes and could be hung or placed on a stand or were free-standing. Standard forms in wire works catalogues ranged in size from 10 to 60 inches. Outside of the standard frame designs offered in wireworks and florist’s supplies catalogues, designs could be made for almost any occasion, with some large enough to make life-sized reproductions.
Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth century floral fashions changed. Some set pieces faded in popularity by the early 1900s, but some remained favorites well into the 1940’s. Many of these same designs are still used today, but the wire frames have been replaced by shapes made from more modern materials to save the florists’ time in making up the arrangement, as well as providing water to the flowers allowing for greater longevity.
emblems (symbols)  Search this
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frame components  Search this
wire  Search this
associations  Search this
ceremonies  Search this
decorations  Search this
Floral Accessories  Search this
Floral decorations  Search this
floral designers  Search this
Flower arrangement  Search this
funerals  Search this
funerary objects  Search this
gates  Search this
heaven  Search this
symbols  Search this
weddings  Search this
wirework  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection. Gift of H. Weber & Sons Company.
Accession number:
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Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens