“Tech the Halls” with the Annual Victorian Yuletide Exhibition

November 28, 2014 - January 4, 2015

Free and Open to the Public

It’s that time of year again, when we email Santa Claus our Christmas lists. Email?

Celebrate the holiday season with a family visit to the Museum’s period rooms in Fountain Elms as the Museum of Art will “Tech the Halls.” The annual Victorian Yuletide exhibition, which opens Friday, November 28, will showcase the “modern” inventions found under Christmas trees in the 19th century. While laptops, iPads, and smart phones are on today’s wish lists, zoetropes and phonographs found their way onto lists in the Victorian era. Inventions and innovations provided the North Pole with requests for new and exciting devices to fill Santa’s sleigh and children’s Christmas stockings.

With a trip to Fountain Elms this holiday season, visitors will explore some of the amazing technological developments that laid the foundation for the electronic growth of the 20th century.

The parlor, the “home entertainment center” of the 19th century, was the setting for holiday gatherings and after-dinner activities. In addition to the yards of greenery and festive decorations, the Fountain Elms parlor will feature cutting-edge 19th-century forms of home entertainment. Today there are so many ways to capture an image—digital cameras, cell phones and tablets—but a stereoscope, or better yet a zoetrope, provided hours of entertainment during harsh winters a century ago. A functioning zoetrope or “Wheel of Life,” the precursor to today’s films and DVDs, will be on view as will an Edison phonograph and an early camera. In 1883, Rochester Optical Company introduced the American Challenge camera. Advertised as the “most complete camera ever manufactured” it used large, fragile single-image dry plates to capture images—a far cry from the “chip” of the digital world.

Technological evolutions affected the kitchen as well. With advances in shipping and preservation, “new” fresh foods became centerpieces of holiday meals. With labor saving devices in place, Americans discovered more leisure time and bicycle and rollerskate crazes took hold. The exhibition will feature a late 19th- century bicycle, with its enormous front wheel.

Learn how “laptop” of the 19th century had a totally different meaning and, while laptops of today could hardly be imagined in the 1870s, technology was already moving in that direction. Most children will not identify the early typewriter in the Fountain Elms library setting, and many visitors might be surprised to learn that, thanks to E. Remington and Sons, every keyboard today has a local connection. Remington started production of their first typewriter on March 1, 1873 in Ilion, N.Y. The Type-Writer introduced the QWERTY design and was the first typewriter to include upper and lower case letters. This keyboard design lives on today globally on cell phones and computers.

To celebrate the parallel exhibition A Century of Olmsted: Utica and Beyond (on view on the second floor of Fountain Elms), a miniature winter park-like centerpiece based on original plans and photographs of the Frederick T. Proctor Park and featuring paths, a pond, and a gazebo, will bring festive greens to the elaborately set dining room table.

The Victorian Yuletide exhibition is free and open to the public and will remain on view through January 4, 2015.


New York State Council on the Arts with the support of
Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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