Museum Director Musings on the Homestead’s Holiday Decorations

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Decorating the Homestead for the holidays is always a good deal of work for our paid and volunteer staff, but it is also a great deal of fun.

This year, we added a little more to our seasonal efforts with a temporary exhibit in the Homestead Museum Gallery on top of the decorations at both historic houses and outdoors near the Gallery.

A seasonal exhibit on Christmas holiday gift-giving includes Homestead artifacts in the cases and text and images showing the changes in the commercialization of Christmas over the decades through the 1920s.

The display, spearheaded by our programs manager Gennie Truelock, focuses on the growing commercial nature of the Christmas season by using the department store as a focal point for showing how complex and elaborate gift-giving had become by the 1920s compared to decades past.

Gennie worked with our public programs and collections staff to design and mount an exhibit that includes historic artifacts from the Homestead’s collection, images of photographs and printed material to illustrate the interpretation, and a photo station.

This photo station, including a sleigh created by Homestead volunteer Phil Trujillo, is a great interactive component to the Gallery exhibit and evokes one from a photo in the museum collection (seen in the panel at the upper left.)

The latter is a recreation of one from a 1920s department store that featured the by-then traditional visit and photo with Santa Claus.  Homestead volunteer Phil Trujillo put his woodworking skills to use by recreating a sleigh that really helps make the recreation stand out!

One nice touch was based on a 1920s coloring sheet issued by Bullock’s, a Los Angeles department store which operated from 1907-1990.  Jennifer Scerra, our programs coordinator who did an excellent job with a Workman and Temple family tree that was highlighted here previously, recreated the sheet for Homestead guests to use.  Compare the two examples below and see how well Jennifer’s work came out!

An exhibit case is attractively laid out and contains an excellent selection of Homestead artifacts that might be found in any number of department store catalogs, whether from Bullock’s, Robinson’s, The Broadway, Sears or other big-name retailers from the Twenties.

Objects include a doll, roller skates, a toaster, a tie, cuff links, and a curling iron.  A Broadway Christmas season catalog, a Frigidaire election refrigerator brochure, and a Bullock’s menswear pamphlet complete the display, which was put together by Michelle Villarreal and Melanie Tran, our collections coordinator and collections assistant.

A variety of 1920s objects that could be given as holiday gifts are exhibited in this case, including clothing items, a doll, a toaster, roller skates, and more.  Christmas catalogs and pamphlets complete the display.

Speaking of Michelle and Melanie, they did a great job working on the planning and installation of decorations in both the Workman House, focusing on the 1870s, and at La Casa Nueva, reflecting the late 1920s.  While we are awaiting the availability of a live tree, which will be properly trimmed and placed on a table as would be found 140 to 150 years ago, for the Workman House, La Casa Nueva’s decorations were completed last week with the assistance of our Collections Care volunteers and Robert Barron, our facilities coordinator.

Christmas lights are found at the front on bushes and hedges and in the courtyard of the Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, the balconies of which are draped in garland with red bows attached at intervals.

An enticing arrangement in the dining room of La Casa Nueva is highlighted by the centerpiece on the table, featuring snow-covered trees and pinecones, as well as velvet ribbons leading to each place setting, at which are small wrapped presents.

A walk through the home feels like a trip back nearly ninety years ago and each of the main downstairs rooms are festively festooned with all kinds of holiday decorations drawn from ideas popular in the late Twenties.  Crepe paper, for example, is heavily used because it was so popular then and streamers span the ceilings of rooms, while bells hang from chandeliers.

One of the more dramatic elements of the display is found with the dining room table and Michelle put together a beautiful arrangement with a centerpiece of snow-dusted trees and pinecones, while velvet ribbon cascades from the chandelier and wrapped gifts are found at each place setting.

Holiday decorations from the 1920s on the sofa and a tea cart complement the manger scene on the fireplace mantel and crepe paper streamers along the ceiling.

In the living room, an array of authentic period decorations, including several electric light boxes, are found on a tea cart and the sofa, while a manger scene graces the fireplace mantel and crepe paper streamers run the width of the room, adding to the visual and interpretive interest.

Undoubtedly, though, the show-stopper in La Casa Nueva is the main hall, which, as the first stopping point for visitors, tends to be pretty stunning in its impact anyway.  Robert made the suggestion last year of putting the Christmas tree, typically placed in the living room, in the main hall.

A striking scene greets visitors entering La Casa Nueva’s main hall with this tall, stately artificial Christmas tree, brightly decorated and lit, and including a Santa-piloted biplane overhead!

This year, he purchased a gorgeous artificial tree that stands some 13 feet tall and fits nicely within the chandelier (there’s even an artificial scent device concealed in the tree to make it appear as if the tree was live).  A cute little touch is suspending a wooden toy biplane between the upstairs landing rail and the tree with a Santa figure in the cockpit (after all, a reindeer and sleigh seems so 1890s!)

Robert also worked with our landscaping contractor on the decoration of outdoor spaces around La Casa Nueva and in the area at the front of the site near the Gallery, gazebo, and water tower.  Garland, lights and wreaths are used to give visitors approaching the museum that feeling of holiday spirit before they see the rest of the Homestead.

The approach to the museum features lighted garlands and a brightly decorated gazebo to entice visitors.

We have lots of great holiday programming giving opportunities to learn about how the Christmas season evolved over the period of the 1840s through the 1920s and to see all the decorations designed and installed by our talented paid staff, with the assistance of dedicated volunteers.  Thanks to all who devoted so much time and energy to making this happen!

To learn more about our seasonal program offerings, click here.

Leave a Reply