Christmas Cards in America, 1875-1975: A Focus Gallery Course


Spring 2010


5th Floor Classroom


Kenneth L. Ames

The goal of this course is to generate an experimental exhibition and accompanying publication for the BGC Focus Gallery analyzing and interpreting one hundred years of the common Christmas card in the United States. Christmas cards have rarely been the subjects of exhibitions, for they suffer from a number of limiting conditions. First, they are too abundant and commonplace to be considered important. Second, the economic value of individual Christmas cards, whether old or new, is so insignificant that they command little respect among collectors. Third, the objects are small in size rather than heroic and made of materials that lack intrinsic worth. Fourth, with a few exceptions, most Christmas cards were produced as multiples, with scores or even hundreds of the same card manufactured. They are not the rare, precious, and unique objects preferred by the art world. For these and other reasons, Christmas cards have generally remained beneath the gaze of the academic community and have been little studied. The basic argument behind this course is that Christmas cards are worth a second look. These commonplace and undervalued scraps of popular culture in fact contain and convey considerable cultural content. Our task is to determine 1) what the content is and 2) how to make it accessible through the medium of an interpretive exhibition. The course thus confronts two intertwined challenges- extracting cultural content from the cards and crafting a communicative exhibition. 3 credits.