Oh, to be in New York during the holiday season. The decorations, the store windows, the tree at Rockefeller Center, the ice skating, the shopping, the "Nutcracker." And of course there are always interesting art exhibitions to see at this time of the year at the many museums and galleries in New York. One that I would definitely go to is at the Bard Graduate Center -- "American Christmas Cards, 1900-1960." This exhibition focuses on the images on American Christmas cards of the twentieth century.
I am a bit of a nut about Christmas and love almost everything about it. What I crave is a Christmas right out of Dickens filled with all the old-fashioned trappings. Each year after Thanksgiving I happily throw myself into all the rituals of Christmas -- the decorating, the tree, the music, the gifts, the food, and the Christmas cards. I love the tradition of sending Christmas cards. I have always felt that sending and receiving "season's greetings" was a warm and generous gesture, something that came naturally with the good tidings of the season. My favorite cards are ones that look vintage. And so when I got a look at this exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center in New York, I saw many images that had the nostalgic charm that I have always loved.
Flat Card, circa 1925
Surprisingly, this exhibition and the accompanying book is the first of its kind to study the images on American Christmas cards of the twentieth century and examine their cultural and aesthetic meaning. For the first time these images are being studied in a scholarly fashion to enrich our understanding of American Christmas and also certain aspects of American culture. This topic is a timely one since according to the exhibition the custom of sending Christmas cards is in decline and of course we know that hand-written letters are also in decline. People rely much more on paperless communication. I hope the custom of sending seasonal greeting cards is one that survives. It's one of the few personal missives we still get in the mail. Remember the days when we used to take the time to write letters?
The exhibition presents twenty of the most outsanding classes of Christmas card imagery. The images I have included are ones that are highlighted on the web page for the exhibition. You can read more about it here. According to the book that accompanies the exhibition, these cards are a window into American Christmas and culture in the first half of the twentieth century. I enjoyed looking at these seasonal expressions of early Americana and American Christmas. I look forward to reading the book and learning about the conclusions and patterns seen in the cards taken as a whole and reflections by the author on the topic of Christmas cards as an art form of communication and communion.
There is such an old-fashioned nostalgic appeal to these images and looking at them makes me smile. I am enchanted by the warmth, innocence and celebration that they convey.
Modified French-fold card. ca. 1935
French -fold card, sent 1954
Calling Card, sent 1928
Augmented French-fold card, ca. 1930
Single-fold card, ca. 1925
French-fold card, ca. 1935
The curators of the exhibition argue that Christmas cards express more than simple sentiment and that examining their images provides information about deeper meanings of cultural significance. Viewing the exhibition or reading the book promises enlightenment about Christmas cards as a meaningful art form.
The book that accompanies the exhibition
American Christmas Cards, 1900-1960 is the book that accompanies the exhibition. I can't wait to buy it and learn more about this subject that until now has been largely unexamined, even within the art world. There are 375 images and much scholarly information about the power of images and the appeal of Christmas.
I hope the charming tradition of sending greeting cards during the holiday season continues. Walking out to the mailbox each day during the month of December and opening up these beautiful images with messages of peace and joy is a tradition that enhances the beauty of the season. It is one of the joys of this time of the year and brings happiness to the senders as well as the recipients. Looking through all my cards as they accumulate throughout the month and reading the messages inside is indeed a form of communication and communion that makes life a little sweeter. I hope we can hang on to this old-fashioned tradition as one of the more meaningful and least commerical aspects of the trappings of Christmas. As each day now builds towards the frenzy of the holidays, this little ritual provides comfort and takes us to a place of connecting with others.