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Parlor Fireplace Tiles

In the 1950s, led by Decorator Frances Brumbaugh, the Colonial Dames "Winterthurized" Stenton with soft silk upholstery and oriental rugs in the manner of Henry Francis du Pont. Purple manganese floral tiles replaced the original carnation and fritillary design that complemented the grain of the King of Prussia marble surround. While we mourn the loss of the original tiles, we can see the change as a product of its own historical context and as an artifact of 20th-century historic house interpretation. Lessons like these are cautionary tales on the dangers of initiating irreversible change to historic buildings and interiors and also on the value of maintaining a change for the layered story it can tell.

Image Captions: 1) Stenton parlor fireplace, c.1890s, Maria Dickinson Logan Collection, Stenton Archives. The parlor fireback with James Logan’s initials and the date 1728 is on the left. 2) Cropped detail showing the original blue-and-white carnation and fritillary tin-glazed earthenware (often called “Delft”) tiles. 3) Four tiles laid to show their linked design. 4) A similar version of the design in color published in C. H. de Jonge’s Dutch Tiles book, which inaccurately describes the flowers as “tulips” and carnations. 5) The Winterthur-style 1950s Stenton parlor, with soft green and yellow silk upholstery, oriental carpets, and the manganese purple tiles. 6) Iron fireback, cast at Durham Iron Works, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1728. The foliate designs of the fireback were a visual complement to those of the original tiles.


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