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      Parlor stove, ca. 1883 What objects are included in the Decorative Arts collection?

At the Illinois State Museum, the decorative arts collection includes all kinds of objects that were made or used in everyday life from about the year 1800 A.D. to today. The objects include duck decoys, furniture, clothing, dolls, and thousands of other objects. Because our focus is Illinois, most of the articles were made here or once belonged to someone in this state. The objects, in a sense, are a record of life in Illinois -- a story without words.

How do we know exactly what the objects are and where they came from? 

Like the people who owned or used them, these objects have histories. Many of them came to the Museum with documents that describe their past uses, owners, or makers. Photographs, letters, receipts, and newspaper or magazine articles are examples of documentation

These records help establish the history, background, and importance of the objects. Sometimes interviews with a former owner or the donor of the object provide further useful information.

If there is no documentation, the curator will look for information in specialist books, catalogs, history books, and other sources.

How is the collection used?

  • Curators use the objects to create exhibits. 
  • Curators from other museums sometimes borrow obejcts for their exhibits. 
  • Researchers from inside and outside the Museum use the collections for study. 
  • Curators often answer questions about the collections and oversee visits by other scholars.

Visit At Home in the Heartland Online, an exhibit filled with objects from the Decorative Arts Collections. Information on the parlor stove (above) can also be found there.

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