Thursday, June 8, 2017

Celery Vases: Forgotten Stars of the Victorian Dinner Table

During Summer 2017, the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives will have an exhibit of the Jacocks Celery Vase Collection in the Reference Exhibit Cases. The collection is comprised of 24 matching pairs of celery vases. It is a small part of a 700-piece collection of pressed and cut glass celery vases that was willed to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by W.P. Jacocks, who helped to develop the first public health nutrition program in North Carolina. Jacocks, a one-time quarterback at UNC Chapel Hill, went on to receive a Doctorate of Public Health from Johns Hopkins. In the early days of the Public Health Program, Dr. Jacocks was active in the “Hookworm” program, working to eradicate hookworm disease and other ailments in South Asia. In 1942, Jacocks retired to Chapel Hill and he passed away in 1965.

Jacocks began collecting the vases in the 1940s, during his tenure with the State Board of Health in North Carolina. In Victorian times, celery was presented in beautiful and expensive cut glass vases, seen as symbols of wealth. Celery was considered a “high status” food due to its labor intensive growing process and difficulty to keep fresh and was an expensive vegetable. During its period as a status symbol, celery was displayed prominently near the center of the table as an important part of the setting. Pressed glass vases made from a mold were less expensive and therefore more accessible to middle class families. Both pressed and cut glass vases can be seen in this collection. In the final decades of the 1800s, the popularity of celery vases gave way to the celery dish, an attractive, subtle way to show sparkle and still add prestige to the table.

The concept of the celery vase demonstrates how taste and luxury change over the centuries. Scarcity and labor cost made celery a “fashionable commodity,” but as celery gradually became easier to grow, harvest, and keep fresh it was no longer a “rare” or expensive vegetable. In addition, glass d├ęcor, including celery vases, became more accessible and less prestigious and its once prominent place on the dinner table declined.

These pieces from the Jacocks Celery Vase Collection were given to the university in 1983. Gladys Strawn Bullard, Jacocks’ former colleague in the state nutrition program and Vice Chairman of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Board of Trustees, requested a permanent gift of the celery vases for an exhibit in the School of Home Economics.

The vases, along with a commemorative certificate, were presented to UNCG Chancellor William Moran, by UNC Chapel Hill chancellor, Christopher C. Fordham III. An exhibit was created in recognition of the contributions of UNCG alumni in the state’s nutrition program, which was displayed in the entrance of the School of Home Economics, now the Stone Building on College Avenue. In 2011, the collection became part of the University Archives Artifact Collection.
This blog was written by Jenay Solomon and Sara Maeve Whisnant

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