Title: Cabinet of Curiosities
Date: September 2016 – August 1, 2017
Within the depths of the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society collections are never-before-seen artifacts that will ignite your curiosity and send shivers down your spine! Opening September 3, 2016, the Sigal Museum will showcase its eerie, weird, and most curious objects from the collection vault. Discover the stories behind the Apache Skull Cracker, the Alfred Thomas Explosion, the Edison bulb, Korean Death Pot, Little Master Bobby, and many more.
What is a Cabinet of Curiosity? For hundreds of years, people have been collecting items relating to the natural world, archaeological wonders, religious relics, and art, almost anything you can imagine. People shared their collections with each other to learn about these wonders and to entertain each other. Collections of oddities and the bizarre turned up in most cities and towns in the United States in the 1800s, perhaps the most famous being P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York City that ran from 1841 until 1868. Eventually these collections of curiosities became our modern museums. Step back in time with us and be the first to lay your eyes on these treasures. Dare to explore the museum’s best-kept secrets!
Thank You to Our Sponsors: Ashton Funeral Home, Neil and Kathleen Coddington, David and LuAnn Swonger, David and Helenbeth Vilcek, John and Colleen Lavdar, Becky Goldenberg and Hans Lauten, Rich and Marianne Phifer, Rebecca Price Janney, Marlou Belyea, Jeff McGuire, Ryan Merriam, Linda Heindel, and Gary Weaver
Little Master Bobby, c. 1860, Civil War Era Ventriloquist Dummy crafted by Jacob Haas, NCHGS collection (photo courtesy of The Morning Call)
Easton’s First Baby Carriage, NCHGS collection (photo courtesy of The Morning Call)
Punch and Judy Theatre and Puppets, c. 1890, NCHGS collection (photo courtesy of The Morning Call)
Title: Fashion Plates of Northampton County
Date: February 18 – September 15, 2017
From the 1880s to the 1930s, the Lehigh Valley was one of the leading silk and textile-producing regions in the nation. Workers from Europe brought skills in spinning, weaving, and sewing and supplied labor for over 200 mills in the area. At one point, professional Northampton County seamstresses produced everything from shirts to handbags to flags and ribbon. The mills started to close during the Great Depression; a few continue today, but most sewing now happens at home.
For over 50 years, home seamstresses in Northampton County have been gathering together to improve sewing skills, share ideas, and foster their creative flair. In the spirit of our rich textile history, two local groups – Greater Lehigh Valley Chapter of the American Sewing Guild and the Third Street Sewing Circle – have come together to exhibit their handcrafted fashions.
The exhibition contains garments inspired by 20th-century fashion, including children’s items and unique fantasy-inspired gowns, as well as patterns and drawings that reveal the makers’ process, and archival images and antique fashion plates from NCHGS’s collection.
Title: The Cat’s Meow: Lehigh Valley in the Age of Art Deco & the Roaring twenties
Date: September 9, 2017 – August 6, 2018
Exhibition highlights the emergence of Art Deco style in the Lehigh Valley and the social and cultural environment of the 1920s and 30s.
Welcome to 1920 and 30s America: The Lehigh Valley is roaring with red light districts, illegal underground speakeasies, and organized crime. Immigrants, women, and children are finding work in the booming steel and textile industries across the area. The modern era is on the horizon.
In a bold reaction against tradition, the Art Deco movement emerges to the forefront of design. It is a grand symbol of change in an increasingly mechanized world. Architecture, furniture, apparel, graphic design, cars, trains, ocean liners, and jewelry all begin to reflect the growth and change of a young 20th-century America.
The exhibition is divided into the following sections:
The exhibition prologue outlines the aftereffects of World War I. The emergence of new technology and the mechanization of war impacted the world greatly. European artists in opposition to the absurdity and tragedies of the war brought forth new artistic ideas that set the stage for the stylistic components of Art Deco.
Paris Exposition of 1925
From 1890 – 1910, the Art Nouveau (or “New Art”) aesthetic was embraced by well-to-do Europeans. The Nouveau period was classified by its rejection of traditional “academic” art, curvaceous designs, and floral motifs. It was the major predecessor to the Art Deco period, which took the world by storm during the Paris World’s Fair of 1925. The term “Arts Decoratifs” was officially coined. The organic motifs once seen during the Nouveau period were replaced by sharp geometric designs, straight lines, and rare expensive materials – the pinnacles of luxury.
A Mechanizing World
By the 1920s, the Lehigh Valley was one of the top producers of silk in the world and Bethlehem Steel was the second leading producer of steel in the entire nation. Bethlehem Steel products were used in the construction of the New York Chrysler Building (an iconic Art Deco building), the Golden Gate Bridge, and Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Booming production in the area led to prosperity and disposable income. A vibrant consumer-driven market thrived and contributed to tremendous economic growth.
The Era of Modern Design
The Art Deco style, examples of which can be found all over the Lehigh Valley, was an expression of an industrial society. Building forms were streamlined and simple with decorative ornamentation. Zigzags, geometric designs, and stylized floral motifs were created with glazed bricks, mosaic tiles, or metal. Tile and glass were predominant materials, as they offered a sleek planar quality to buildings of the period.
A selection of local Art Deco architecture in the Lehigh Valley:
Easton: Bank Street Annex, Mayer Building, Verizon Building
Bethlehem: Historic Hotel Bethlehem, Bethlehem Armory
Northampton: Roxy Theatre
Whitehall: Lehigh Valley Dairy (late Deco)
Allentown: PPL Building, Civic Theatre, Allentown Post Office
In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and wasn’t repealed until 1933. This period of temperance, when all alcohol was prohibited in the United States, provoked the illegal production of alcoholic beverages and underground speakeasies. Jazz and flapper culture thrived in American cities, and disposable income led to the popularity of vaudeville shows and the talkies, which became a new pastime. Vaudeville history shone brightly in the Roxy Theatre of Northampton and the Civic Theatre in Allentown.
Additionally, New Yorkers emptied out after weekend prize fights, driving automobiles and catching trains into Easton. Late-night visitors took advantage of bawdy houses and speakeasies which proliferated in Easton’s Red Light district. Southside Bethlehem was also known for its brothels, gambling, gang relations and opium dens.
The Roaring Twenties met an abrupt end when the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929. Soon the Great Depression would follow, leaving thousands of people unemployed, homeless, and hungry.
Join us as we reminisce one of the most glamorous yet turbulent times in American history – The Cat’s Meow: Lehigh Valley in the Age of Art Deco and the Roaring 20s at the Sigal Museum in Historic Downtown Easton.
This exhibition is in collaboration with the historic Roxy Theatre, Magnolia Sadies, Taste of Easton, and more TBA.