Materialist Methodists: Ceramic Highlights from Olivet's Wesleyana Collection
April 10 — May 5, 2023
Presented by the Department of History and Political Science, ONU
Organized by Professor Kyle Robinson, Ph.D. with Bryson Doering, B.A. History '26
The relationship between the transcendent world of religious experience and the material world of things is long established. From the veneration of relics by Medieval pilgrims to the modern w.w.j.d. bracelet, the believer’s status within a particular Christian group is often confirmed by the visibly consumed object. For the Christians that came out of John Wesley’s eighteenth century revival, objects associated with the movement marked them as conspicuously and distinctly Methodist. Coinciding as is it did with Britain’s leadership in the industrial revolution, Methodist objects also established a close association between spiritual revival and the class based consumerist transformations reworking British society. As a result, the creation of Wesley and Methodist objects of consumption place the movement within the larger narrative of the rise of the culture industry and the mechanical reproducibility of the image. Methodist objects, then, are material goods born of immaterial considerations occupying a nexus of religious, social, and industrial change.
This exhibit brings together highlights from Olivet’s extensive collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century Methodist related Staffordshire pottery in order to understand and confront their place within the industrial reproducibility of religious imagery and the changing economy of British belief. Through busts and figurines of John Wesley, commemorative plates, Primitive Methodist teacups, and more, viewers are encouraged to reflect on both the commodification and consumption of religious based identity across eighteenth and nineteenth century British Methodism.