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Press Release: Flicker and Flame

New student-curated exhibition reveals the history of illumination at the Farm House Museum

AMES, IOWA - February 15, 2021 Whale oil and kerosene lamps provided the world a way to bring light into the home that was a safer alternative to candlelight. Flicker and Flame: Whale Oil and Kerosene Lamps, is now open at the Farm House Museum, highlighting over 50 glass and ceramic whale oil and kerosene lamps, spill vases and match holders from the University Museums’ permanent collection and Iowa Quester Glass Collection.
Flicker and Flame: Whale Oil and Kerosene Lamps explores the history of these fuel lamps, innovations and designs in lamp manufacturing, and reveals the history of illumination at the Farm House Museum, the oldest building on Iowa State’s campus. The exhibition is co-curated by Farm House Museum interns Madisyn Rostro, junior in History at Iowa State, and Kylea Mosley, senior in History at Iowa State. Generous sponsorship for this exhibition provided by Carol Pletcher.

Co-curator Rostro was especially intrigued by how complex some of the oldest lamps were. “I was surprised to learn of the number of pieces that make up whale oil and kerosene lamps. They are definitely different compared to the modern lamps we have today!” she said.
Co-curator Mosley, contemplates the difference of living by lamplight vs. the electrical and digital life of today. “I believe it would be quite difficult to get work done via lamplight,” she said. “They’re ultimately not very bright so reading, working, or socializing after dark would have been straining.”
“But the ambiance created by the flickering light gives the user a cozy, if not eerie, feeling and it’s easy to see how many great works of Civil War and Victorian Era literature were written late at night with only a lamp light to work by,” Mosley said.
Flicker and Flame: Whale Oil and Kerosene Lamps is open now through October 29, 2021 at the Farm House Museum, located at 601 Farm House Lane on the Iowa State University campus. The museum is open Monday through Friday, noon to 4:00 p.m.; closed weekends, holidays and University breaks. Admission is free, with a recommended donation of $8.

About the Iowa Questers Glass Collection
Started in 1996, the partnership between the Iowa Questers and University Museums established the Iowa Quester Glass Collection that today is comprised of over 1600 glass objects donated by Iowa Quester members. A large selection of whale oil lamps, spills, and other early fuel lamps were donated in 2005 by Iowa Quester Jim Jung of Sioux City with additional lamps donated by Quester Glass Committee member Jackie Smith, formerly of Ames. The Iowa Quester Glass Collection has a specific focus on American-made glass from 1840 to 1945 and includes examples of Brilliant Period cut glass, iconic and rare works of pressed glass, art glass, historical glass, Iowa City and Keota glass, and many more examples of early American pressed glass.


Farm House Museum

Hours: Monday - Friday open to the public Noon to 4:00 PM Closed weekends, holidays and University breaks.
Address: 601 Farm House Lane, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
Admission: The cost is free, however there is a suggested donation of $8
Parking: Available at the Memorial Union ramp or East Parking Deck for a nominal fee.



Exhibition Program

This program will be presented in webinar format and participants must register in advance. Registrants will receive the program link via email several days in advance to the event.

The Products and Markets of American Commercial Whaling, 1750-1920
Tuesday, April 27, 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.  REGISTER NOW
VIRTUAL WEBINAR PROGRAM: Pre-register to receive the meeting link.
Delve further into the fascinating history behind the objects featured in the exhibition Flicker and Flame: Whale Oil and Kerosene Lamps at the Farm House Museum. Join special guest Michael Dyer, Curator of Maritime History at the New Bedford Whaling Museum (New Bedford, MA) as he explores the rise and fall of whale oil in America from the early advent of Atlantic Ocean sperm whaling toward the global expansion of the industry, and on to the eventual obsolesce of these products. Dyer will discuss the early candle market, the diversity of whale oil products, their uses and applications with a particular emphasis on sperm oil lamps circa 1825-1860, including lighthouses as well as evolving lamp types adapted for other burning fluids as the nation and demand grew.


The exhibition is generously funded by Carol Pletcher. Flicker and Flame objects are generous donations of James Jung, Julius Black, Ann and Henry Brunnier, the Neva Petersen estate, Marian Daniells, the Robert Wright estate, the Demaris Pease estate, Eleanor McKee, the Bertha and Edward Waldee estate, the Iowa Questers and others.

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