American Christmas Cards, 1900–1960
September 21, 2011 - December 31, 2011
Curated by Professor Kenneth L. Ames and students
"The Christmas card was a culturally specific artifact, a very distinctive, even idiosyncratic way to express a fundamental and enduring human gesture."
Christmas cards express more than simple sentiment, for since their earliest days the cards have included prominent images precisely because they suggest richer and deeper meanings than can be efficiently conveyed by words. In recent years the genre has been in decline, as fewer people send cards, but the chief function—making contact with others—remains as critical as ever, although superseded by new methods of connection. It is now evident that the Christmas card was a culturally specific artifact, a very distinctive, even idiosyncratic way to express a fundamental and enduring human gesture within the commercial, materialistic, and rapidly changing society that was the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.
The exhibition and accompanying book argue the central premise that examining the images on Christmas cards used in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the end of the 1950s enriches our understanding of not only the American Christmas but also significant aspects of American culture. These cards constitute a category of American material culture that is rich in documentary potential yet has been nearly invisible in the scholarly literature.
American Christmas Cards, 1900-1960, edited by Kenneth L. Ames, has been conceived as a kind of field guide to American Christmas cards. After an introductory essay, each chapter is devoted to a single class of card and includes images, a time line, and commentary. The images provide an overview of the genre, and the time lines identify concurrent events and phenomena that relate to the subject, while short essays explore possible lines of interpretation. The book's brief conclusion summarizes patterns visible in the cards taken as a whole and invites reflection on Christmas cards as an art form of communication and communion.
The Focus Gallery presents small-scale exhibitions that are part of an academically innovative project that also includes graduate seminars, public programming, and publications both in print and online. Envisaged as a laboratory, Focus Gallery projects promote experimentation in display, interpretation, and the use of digital media and reflect the BGC’s commitment to exhibitions as integral to scholarly activity.
Top Image:Flat card. 4 1/8 x 6 1/2 inches. Black and color lithography with engraving on cardstock. ca. 1925
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