Tennessee Fancy: Decorative Arts of Northeast Tennessee 1780 – 1940

April 01, 2021 - October 31, 2021

Exhibit Details

Tennessee Fancy: Decorative Arts of Northeast Tennessee 1780 – 1940

On Display April 1, 2021 – October 31, 2021


This exhibition takes a look at what made the decorative arts of Tennessee unique, and how style flourished across the state line. Known for a short time as the State of Franklin, the counties of Northeast Tennessee produced artists that created bold designs, from the cobalt and manganese glazes on pottery from Haun, Decker, and Cain, to the highly patterned woods and ‘rope and tassel’ inlay of Greene County cabinetmakers. Woven coverlets and pieced quilts from the region have geometric patterns inspired by the traditions of those traveling along the Great Road to make a new home on the frontier, and itinerant artists came into the region to paint portraits for settlers, educating a new generation of painters in Tennessee. Although many of these painters remain unknown, William Harrison Scarborough and Samuel Shaver enjoyed successful careers creating portraits in Sullivan and Hawkins Counties.


The traditions and heritage of the early settlers in Tennessee began to develop into a unique decorative style as Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton cabinetry styles trickled in along the Great Road, and as German, English, Scottish, and Irish immigrants pushed westward after the American revolution. Throughout the nineteenth century, Tennessee’s style was cultivated by waves of settlers and pioneers expanding further west. They drove the market by seeking to fill their homes with functional pieces that also reflected their newfound prosperity and permanence.


By the mid nineteenth century, Tennessee had developed a style all its own, sometimes outstandingly decorative, sometimes oddly curious, but always…fancy.

Exhibit Sponsors