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Catalog Data

35 × 17 × 18 in. (88.9 × 43.2 × 45.7 cm)
Floral frames
ca. 1860-1940
Victorian (1837-1901)
Some of the most popular designs in funeral flowers in the late nineteenth century were those that appealed to the sentimentality of the period. These flower frame designs were both more decorative and more personal in their references. Shapes alluded to lives cut short and the loss of cherished relationships. As a visual genre, unfilled furniture came to represent a deceased loved one in nineteenth-century mourning iconography. These designs were in form of objects that the deceased had interacted with and became a personification of the individual who had been lost. The Vacant Chair or Empty Chair appeared in a variety of mediums in mourning paraphernalia, from the cemetery to photography. The chair that was once occupied, now left vacant implied the absence or loss of a family member, particularly an authoritative figure. This made the Empty Chair particularly suited to men, especially those in positions of authority; however, any father as head of the household was worthy of such a tribute in the nineteenth century. The Vacant Chair design could also be more general in its connotations, indicating any missing member of the family or community. A variation on the Empty Chair design, the Armchair could also be used as a symbol of ease and a charming life. The Vacant Chair or Empty Chair was usually an elaborate and massive floral design. It was usually life-sized. Depending on the ambitiousness of the designs and the quality of flowers, these designs, as some of the more expensive flower frame tributes, ranged in price from $50-100 as of the early twentieth century.
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
Floral frames  Search this
frame components  Search this
wire  Search this
armchairs  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
symbols  Search this
wirework  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection. Donated in memory of Mary Palmieri Carbone.
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Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens