Listen to the curators of the Ohio Decorative Arts Center’s “A Victorian Christmas” exhibit discuss the exhibit
By: Emily Votaw
It’s easy to forget that even from our perspective at the end of 2021, the Victorian era was not that long ago.
In fact, if you look around for even a moment, they’ll see the reverberations of this formative period in history all over the place, and perhaps most surprisingly in the way Christmas is celebrated – even though we are 120 years old. from the late Victorian era.
Until January 2, 2022, the Ohio Decorative Arts Center in Lancaster showcases this fascinating link between past and present with an exhibition titled ‘A Victorian Christmas’. The exhibit features pieces from the collection of curators George and Jeannie Johnson, as well as five Victorian-era-inspired costumes from the Paramount Pictures archives provided by fellow curator Randall Thropp.
“The Victorian Era” gets its name, and rightly so, from the reign of Queen Victoria, who ruled the British Empire from 1837 to 1901. In 1848, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert forever changed the way whose celebration of Christmas we visualize when an illustration of the royal family enjoying a festive and decorated tree was published in the “Illustrated London News”. Soon after, homes across Britain decided to bring trees adorned with fruit, small gifts, candles and fruit to their homes for Christmas.
Other Christmas traditions that took root during Victoria’s reign include sending Christmas cards, decorating your home for Christmas, and focusing on spending time with family, for n ‘to name a few.
However, George Johnson told me that for as much of the influence that Victorian Christmases have had on the contemporary idea of the holidays, it’s still easy enough to understand a mistaken view of what those early Christmases were like if we don’t. not pay attention.
“If you look at the women’s Christmas magazines that show ‘Victorian Christmas trees’ they really don’t show what a Victorian Christmas tree is. really looked like. What they’re showing you are decorative trees, and they’re made to look pretty for a 21st century sensibility. The way these trees are decorated and the way they are lit up and things like that – is nowhere near what a real Victorian tree looked like, ”Johnson said. “And we can see it in photographs from the time. The very first photographs, in the 1850s, 1860s, were expensive. Most people were just taking a picture of themselves, but as we move into the 1880s, 1890s, and 1900s, people were taking pictures of their Christmas trees. So we have an idea of what these trees looked like. And here we have seven or eight pictures showing what the Victorian trees actually looked like. And they’re really, really different from the images we see in women’s magazines today.
You can hear George Johnson give a talk by the curator on the “A Victorian Christmas” exhibit on Sunday, December 12 at 1:30 or 3:00 p.m. Register for the event online at decartsohio.org.
WOUB also had the opportunity to conduct a short question-and-answer session with curator Randall Thropp, who was also responsible for curating “Distinctly Paramount: Fashion & Costume From the Paramount Pictures Archive”.
WOUB Culture: What was your contribution to the Ohio Decorative Arts Center’s “A Victorian Christmas” exhibit, and how does it relate to the “Distinctly Paramount” exhibit?
Randall Thropp: First of all, I want to say that this is the first time that I have been able to contribute to the annual Christmas exhibit at the Ohio Decorative Arts Center. It’s an exhibit I look forward to every year – and George and Jeanne Johnson do an amazing job showcasing their incredible collection of holiday ephemeral items. This year I was able to add five Victorian inspired costumes from the Paramount collection. Four of the costumes are from Paramount Television’s production of “The Alienist” and “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness” (based on the books by Caleb Carr). The fifth costume is taken from “So Evil My Love” – released by Paramount in 1948. All five productions are set in the late 1890s. Of course, there is a direct relationship to the costumes and the current exhibition, “Distinctly Paramount”. Each costume has been meticulously researched for its authenticity – the materials used to create these costumes are also fabrics believed to have been used in the late 1890s. The only exception would be the dark green dress worn by Sean Young in “The Alienist” ( designed by Michael Kaplan). If you take a good look at the dress, there are little flat sequins that give it a certain sparkle. However, in the 1890s, these glitters were made from metal and not plastic as they are today. Unfortunately, these original sequins are nowhere to be found.
WOUB Culture: As a costume and prop archivist, what do you think of when you hear “Victorian fashion”?
Randall Thropp: High end Victorian fashion is quite lavish, yet very restrictive to the wearer. For women, it’s the underwear that gives the dresses their shape. Whalebone corsets were commonly used for this purpose and had to be extremely uncomfortable to wear for a long time. I also wondered how the hell they kept those dresses clean. Imagine unpaved streets, mud, dust, humidity, horses, etc. The hems must have taken a hit! Perhaps this is why people change clothes several times during the day. You had morning clothes, day clothes, evening clothes, and formal wear for dinner. There was a wardrobe piece for every occasion or event. Women also needed a plethora of accessories, including hats and gloves. Men’s clothing was restrictive for the wearer as well, without whalebone. Men’s formal wear featured many layers and very stiff, starched collars. The goal for both men and women was to be extremely well behaved and to present themselves in the most perfect light possible. Over the years, I have visited several exhibitions showcasing Victorian fashion and have always been impressed with the embellishments they had – bows, ribbons, fabric flowers, intricate pleats and fine stitching – all of them. outstanding design choices mostly handmade. However, I think Hollywood took inspiration from these details and took the look to a more glamorous level to showcase the star wearing the dress. I can think of three films right away that did this – “Age of Innocence”, “Moulin Rouge” and “Gigi”. Excellent examples of talented costume designers elevating the essences of the period.
WOUB Culture: Are there any vestiges of Victorian fashion that we would recognize in contemporary clothing?
Randall Thropp: Really not a lot today. However, there has been a slight resurgence of the prairie look – which isn’t necessarily ‘Victorian’, but is technically out of the Victorian era. In the 1980s, large puffed sleeves reappeared. There is an example of this in the current exhibit. This is a black two-piece suit from the “Black Gallery” designed in the 1980s for Saks Fifth Ave. and used in the movie “Vice”.
WOUB Culture: “Distinctly Paramount” has been on display since June at the Center des Arts Décoratifs and will be released very early next year. Has the significance of this exhibit changed for you in the six months it was opened from what it was when you first set up the exhibit?
Randall Thropp: I was truly blown away by the response the exhibition received. I never imagined it would be so popular with museum goers. The best part is, this is the first exhibit I did at the Ohio Decorative Arts Center that runs through the school year. I was hoping high school and college classes could come and study the clothes for inspiration – and it happened! What is sad for me is that once I got back to my archive warehouse in Hollywood, I found at least 25 other costumes worthy of this exhibit. It will be interesting to see if another museum would like to do the exhibit in another location. Paramount refers to the Ohio Decorative Arts Center as my “lab” – where exhibits are tried and tested – and this one really passed the test with the public!
“A Victorian Christmas” will be open during the normal hours of operation of the Ohio Decorative Arts Center: Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the Ohio Decorative Arts Center is always free.