The nineteenth-century industrial worker as exhibition visitor: ways of engaging with making

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This essay focuses on the skilled industrial worker as an exhibition visitor in the second half of the nineteenth century. It analyzes two exhibitionary spaces that have been central to the display and categorization of made things: the museum and the international exhibition. The first part of the essay considers how industrial workers were represented as museum visitors, through close analysis of a painting and a statue. The second part draws on the published reports of industrial workers visiting the international exhibitions of 1862 (London) and 1867 (Paris), to further understand how they engaged with the objects on display. Together, these analyses aim to restore visibility and agency to the industrial worker as a central yet largely overlooked agent in the histories of art, craft and design. The essay argues that these exhibitionary spaces were in fact engaged with by highly knowledgeable visitors. The labor of industrial workers was skilled, often handmade, and recognized and critiqued by communities of makers. Focusing attention on these specialists offers insights into labor histories, the continued significance of craft in industrial contexts, and the importance of exhibitions as sites of discourse and the construction of professional identity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-180
Number of pages14
Journal The Journal of Modern Craft
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • industrial worker
  • Professional identity
  • museum
  • international exhibitions


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