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Currents of Change, Art and Life Along the Mississippi, 1850-1861
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Currents of Change

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Currents of Change
Father of Waters
Commerce and Culture
Mississippi Panorama
Handsomely Furnished
In the French Taste
Collectors and Exhibitions
Longfellow and the Mississippi
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Connoisseurs along the Mississippi found many opportunities in America and Europe to gather decorating ideas and purchase furnishings for their homes. One family, the Turnbulls of Rosedown plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, commissioned portraits from Thomas Sully in Philadelphia and bought sculpture and novelties in Italy and Switzerland. During a six-month trip through Europe in 1851, the Turnbulls visited the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, known as the Crystal Palace. Design emporiums like the Crystal Palace, in London, and the galleries of distinguished furnishings firms in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York exposed patrons to a proliferation of revival styles--Grecian, Gothic, Elizabethan, and rococo--which were constantly intermingled throughout the Mississippi Valley.

Planters and industrialists alike also relied on furnishings retailers along the river who had connections with eastern manufacturers such as Charles Lee. Many of these manufacturers shipped their products to New Orleans on vessels that would then return east with cotton. Cargoes of furniture, ceramics, glass, silver, and other goods were unloaded at New Orleans and could be transported by steamboat upriver as far north as Minnesota.

The social elite along the Mississippi influenced one another's tastes and buying patterns as they vied for status. One sign of cultural sophistication was the painted portrait or portrait photograph. Ambitious collectors also kept abreast of the latest design trends through publications such as the Art-Journal and Godey's Lady's Book , making their homes into artistic statements.