The vogue for installing dairies, often termed "fancy" or "polite" dairies, within the gardens of wealthy English estates arose during the latter half of the eighteenth century. These polite dairies were functional spaces in which aristocratic women engaged, to varying degrees, in bucolic tasks of skimming milk, churning and molding butter, and preparing creams. As dairy work became a mode of genteel activity, dairies were constructed and renovated in the stylish architectural modes of the day and expanded to serve as spaces of leisure and recreation. Dairies were often lavishly outfitted to create a delicate and clean atmosphere, a fancy yet functional space pleasing to elite tastes. Ornamental dairies were distinctive structures incorporated into the ideologically-laden landscape gardens of the elite. While pleasure dairies have received some scholarly insights, this study is the first to exclusively treat the fashion for pleasure dairies in terms of English culture and attitudes of the era. It explores the cultural iconology of the ornamental pleasure dairy in England and its appropriation into the landscape parks of the elite. Ornamental dairies held significant ideological associations that were heightened and nuanced by their placement within the larger symbolic space of the country estate and its garden park. Their ornate and decorative quality referenced their intentionality of being displayed and viewed. As objects within the English landscape, they were sites to be seen and from which to see"”not only the landscape beyond, but also ideologies about identity, class, gender and morality, key dialogues of eighteenth-century English culture. The dairy emerges as an intriguingly ambiguous space in which morality, innocence and sensuality can be celebrated simultaneously. This thesis explicates three different readings of the English dairy in the eighteenth-century cultural imagination. Dairies were structures whose contradictory fancy/functional nature referenced contemporary attitudes about the acceptable balance between industry and idleness among the gentility. The ornamental dairy was a space whose signification was employed by women to create an acceptable realm for productive yet pleasurable activity to counter stereotypes of idleness and decadence. As structures related to the dialogue of agricultural improvement and productivity when included on estates, these dairies held signification of industry and social beneficence for gentlemen as well. Placed within a class landscape, the virtue of the dairy space came to represent the identity of the aristocracy, as well as England itself. Its class allusions notwithstanding, the dairy remained a highly feminine space. Accepted attitudes about dairy labor created a gendered site whose activities and aesthetics referenced contemporary dialogues about the nature of women"”biologically, emotionally and physically. As such, these dairies and their decorative accoutrements were metaphors for the elite women who worked within. They were social constructions of femininity and the expectations and ideologies regarding women's "natural" roles and reproductive responsibilities as mothers in society. Within a male-produced and governed landscape garden, dairies were venues in which cultural notions of propriety were enforced during a time when the roles of women were demanding reconsideration. However, even the gendered nature of the dairy had its dual significations. The ornamental dairy was a liminal space, a ritual realm that asserted female power and sexuality, as well as ideas of sanctity and chastity. The native femininity and its legacy as an intuitively feminine task also created an exclusive female space that resisted the male gaze, thus creating a dangerous space, an ambiguous space that operated outside the social norms of the time. This mystique of the dairy and its cultish practices was amplified when dairies were placed as independent structures in romantic and idyllic landscape parks. This liminal dairy realm was part of a landscape garden that was equally conflated as a site of liminality and ritual. The idealization and ornamentation of dairies within the garden space enhanced their imaginative distinction and allowed them to become spaces that were both sacred and sexual, pious and pagan. The dairy became an acceptable realm in which to enact varied notions of femininity and sexuality.
College and Department
Fine Arts and Communications; Visual Arts
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Whitaker, Ashlee, "Dairy Culture: Industry, Nature and Liminality in the Eighteenth-Century English Ornamental Dairy" (2008). Theses and Dissertations. 1327.
england, gardens, parks, dairy, dairies, pleasure, ornamental, industry, women, improvement, nature, natural, maternity, breastfeeding, milk, liminal, ritual, sexuality, pagan, temples