An exhibition at the San Francisco International Airport offers a glimpse into the popular 19th-century tradition of "the Grand Tour," a rite of passage in which young travelers journeyed throughout Europe in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the world, visiting landmarks both ancient and new. The world's most popular tourist destinations were memorialized as souvenir models for these visitors.
"Grand Miniatures: 19th Century Souvenir Buildings from the Collection of Ace Architects" includes 60 souvenir objects—replicas of stops along the European Grand Tour—that depict the origins of modern tourism and are on loan from Oakland, Calif.-based Ace Architects.
For more than 20 years, architect David Weingarten, Ace's co-founder, has collected souvenir models and architectural replicas of every type of building and monument around the world, amassing nearly 4,000 unique pieces dating from the early 19th century to the present. Over the years, various parts of Ace's miniatures collection have been featured in exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of the City of New York.
Produced as souvenirs for tourists during the 19th century, the architectural models depict buildings as they existed at the time; many are no longer standing. The models reflect the values and priorities of 19th-century travelers at various points during the period, and the exhibition tracks the late-stage evolution of the Grand Tour as it became more accessible to a wider variety of people and illuminates the shifts in popular architectural styles, as well as the tastes and budgets of tourists. Many of the souvenirs were crafted from fine materials—bronze, Italian marbles, English serpentine—for wealthy travelers, while others were mass-produced for the less wealthy tourists taking the Grand Tour near the end of the century.
"Grand Miniatures: 19th Century Souvenir Buildings" is on display now through May 2011 in the public lobby of the International Terminal at the San Francisco International Airport, open 24/7.