The Welsh Dresser: A Case Study
  Moira Vincentelli, School of Art, University of Wales, Aberystwyth      


Jane was happy; the house shone including the old dresser and clock that her mother had given her... And the food was good. She was glad she had sufficient of the new-fashioned little glass plates for cakes and jam.1

Originally written in Welsh, this passage by the novelist Kate Roberts conjures up many of the points I want to raise in this article. It suggests the delight in domestic activity, in domestic display, in the production of good food, and the status and satisfaction of owning a family heirloom in the form of 'an old dresser' and at the same time being up-to-date with 'new-fashioned little glass plates'.

Kate Roberts wrote about Wales in the first half of the twentieth century - a Wales emerging from its peasant and rural roots into industrial and consumer society. Her novels focus on women and evoke the importance of domestic objects as symbols of identity and change in women's lives.

From a different perspective the burgeoning of consumer society can be connected with 'conspicuous consumption' and the expansion of the middle class of the nineteenth century where the nouveaux riches demonstrate their distance from practical activity and the world of work through the display of decorative goods chosen for their 'look' rather than their 'usefulness'.2 This can be linked with the phenomenon of large shops and department stores where personal choice from a wide range of similar items becomes significant. Remy Saisselin deploys the notion of the 'bibelot' and associates it with the female domain.

woman herself turns into a most expensive bibelot and yet is, at the same time, a voracious consumer of luxury and accumulator of bibelots.3

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1. K. Roberts, Feet in Chains (trans. J.I.Jones), London, Corgi Books, 1980. back to article

2. For a discussion of these concepts see T. Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, London, 1912; R. Saisselin, Bricobacomania: The Bourgeois and the Bibelot, Thames and Hudson, 1985; D.Miller, Material Culture and Mass Consumption, Oxford, Blackwell,1987,147. back to article

3. Saisselin, Bricobracomania, 53. back to article

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The article examines the changing role of the Welsh dresser and its display in the construction of Welsh female identity. It is based on a particular case study and draws on audio and video recordings which reveal how the dresser and the objects on the dresser, especially ceramics, are repositories of personal memory and family history. Furthermore they have become signifiers of aspects of Welsh female identity. The tensions between the use of Welsh and English are also addressed.

Welsh dresser, ceramic collecting, identity, women


Women and Welsh identity

The Dresser in Wales

Dresser and Seld

The Wedding presents

Objects and Stories

Tradition and Innovation in Display



Appendix 1


The Welsh Dresser: A Case Study • Issue 1