Mystery Object

The Museum continues to explore ways to help our visitors connect with art works, the people who made them, and the people who used them. To get those creative juices flowing, we install Mystery Objects in the Maddox Gallery, a space dedicated to 18th-century English life and how people presented themselves through decorative arts objects, paintings, and sculpture.

All decorative arts objects have a purpose, but we do not identify the purpose of our Mystery Objects. Instead, we invite visitors to provide their own ideas and to use response cards to describe, to ask questions about, or to suggest how people may have used them. Visitors post their response cards in the gallery.

Read on to see visitor responses, or post your own online; our curator of decorative arts joins the conversation!

Spring-Fall 2015: Eye Wash

Spring-Fall 2015: Eye Wash

These small ceramic objects, called eye baths, were used as early as the 16th century as personal-cleansing aids and are still used today. In these cups, people mixed saline or boric acid with water, placed the cup with solution over

An English table set in Service à la française, including molded treats.

Summer 2014-Spring 2015: Culinary Molds

Still hungry from our last Mystery Object? How about something sweet? These Staffordshire jelly molds, made of salt-glazed stoneware, were a staple in 18th-century English dining culture. In the second half of the 1700s, dining service à la française (“in

Egg beater. Wedgwood (English, est. 1759), about 1800. Lead-glazed earthenware, creamware. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; The Buten Wedgwood Collection, gift through the Wedgwood Society of New York, AFI451.2008a-b.

Summer 2013-Spring 2014: Egg Beater

Hungry?  In the mood for an omelet? Eighteenth-century cooks used small, circular, covered vessels like these examples–made by Wedgwood of creamware, a kind of low-fired earthenware ceramic–to beat an egg. A series of spikes, or prongs, pointed toward the center

Asparagus Server, Derby porcelain manufactory, England, (operated about 1751 - 1848), about 1770. Porcelain, 3 3/16 x 3 1/4 in. (8.1 x 8.3 cm). Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Catherine H. Collins Collection. Underglaze blue, Chinoiserie.

Winter 2012-Spring 2013: Asparagus Shells

These small, flat receptacles are called asparagus shells. During the 18th century in England, highly decorated ceramic asparagus shells graced the elegant dining tables of the wealthiest individuals, who used them to serve bundles of long asparagus spears. Usually about