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Pa. exhibit features wonders of World's Fairs

Associated Press Published: October 13, 2012

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Like an early version of the Internet, the World's Fair brought ideas from all over the globe to one place.

The first opened in London in 1851 with the goals of showing how technology can inspire art and help sell new products. The best ideas drew adoring masses, competitors, and copycats.

Now visitors to the Carnegie Museum of Art can see what all the fuss was about. A new traveling exhibit — "Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World's Fairs" — features a variety of pieces displayed at World's Fairs over the years, up until 1939. The exhibit highlights the marriage of art, science and industry.

"It was their Internet. This is where they came to see what was new and what was great in decorative arts," said Dawn Reid, a curatorial assistant for the show.

While craftspeople have experimented for thousands of years, the combination of international audiences and new technologies led to intense bursts of innovation and competition at the fairs, said Jason Busch, a co-curator of the exhibit.

For example, one dressing table was made entirely out of silver — something that Colonial craftsmen would never have dreamed of doing. "It's about 1,200 ounces of silver, and 2,500 hours of labor to create it," Busch said.

Sometimes the techniques were traditional, but the end product had a modern feel.

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