Borland Gallery hosts 'tea-time' exhibition

September 22, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- The Borland Gallery is hosting its first town and gown exhibition, "Tea Time in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia," featuring 18th-century Philadelphia furniture and tea services, china, silver and pewter, displayed in six settings. The exhibition will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, running from Oct. 1 to 31.

Inspired by the tea tradition of the period, the exhibition is a collaborative effort and independent study of Integrative Arts students Mary Sorensen, Helen Manfull and Jessica Templeton under the guidance of Richard Pencek, retired assistant professor of kinesiology and American Studies, who has taught American Studies 415, Early Pennsylvania Decorative Art and Furniture, since 1985. A companion exhibit, "Victuals and Vicissitudes of Early New England," will be on view at the Centre Furnace Mansion from Oct. 1 to Nov. 22.

All the pieces in the exhibit, graciously lent by private collectors in the region, represent objects that would have been used in Philadelphia and surrounding communities from 1730 to 1830. The city was a rich center of commerce, arts and culture. By 1775, Philadelphia was second only to London within the British Empire in size, importance and lavish living.

According to Pencek, the tradition of tea served in the mid-afternoon has enjoyed a rise in popularity in recent years among luxury hotels, spas and vacation destinations where it is erroneously termed "high tea," suggesting elegance and high society. "High tea," also called "meat tea," was simply a term for a substantial evening meal for the working classes during the Industrial Revolution, served on a higher dining room table. "Low tea," or afternoon tea, was served on lower, smaller tables and featured lighter fare including tea sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and cakes. "Afternoon tea is still the ideal way to entertain neighbors, friends and even business acquaintances," said Pencek. "It still creates the same elegant, refined, calm atmosphere that was first enjoyed by the English and then by the colonial people of Philadelphia more than 250 years ago."

The exhibition coincides with "Moments of Change: The Late Eighteenth Century, 1776-1801," a multidisciplinary initiative of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. During the open hours, docents will be available at the exhibit to offer a history and explanation of the various pieces. To view the exhibition at other hours, appointments may be arranged by contacting Dick Pencek at 815-865-8129 or

  • One of several settings that will be on display at the Borland Gallery on Penn State's University Park campus.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated November 18, 2010