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 fashion, arts, music, and lifestyle of the roaring 1920s.
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 has been made possible with the generous support of our sponsors:
Georgia Pacific | Andy & Carolyn Daub | Ned & Linda Heindel | W. Beall Fowler | Ken & Lois Wildrick | FreeBridge Realty | Al Kratzer | Spillman Farmer Architects | Barry Isett & Associates | R&D Associates | David Drinkhouse | Taste of Easton Tour Company | Cliff Ross Enterprises | Neil & Kathleen Coddington | Rod & Karen Oren | Rich & Marianne Phifer | Carole Maisel | Janet Rosenthal | Dale & Mary Jo Eden | Gary & BJ Evans | Judy MacGregor | Tom Daub | Marlowe Sigal | Fegley’s Brew Works and Steel Trap Trivia
Morris & Dina Schrum | Lindsey Schrum | Laura Rothkopf | Bob Schlag | Jerome Heavey | Lori Cushner | Jessica McGinley | Caitlyn Langner | Leah Feltenberger | Karen Harvey | Ryan Merriam
Special Thank You
Jazmin Turner | Jean Bemesderfer | Jessica Pineiro | Andrew Glovas | LuAnn Swonger | Richard & Ginny Hope | Neil & Kathleen Coddington | Marianne Phifer | Cedar Crest College | John Lawson III of Forks of the Delaware Historical Arms Society | State Theatre of Easton | Dale Miller of Miller Supply ACE Hardware | Laurel Ferguson, Taste of Easton Tour Co. | Rick Wolfe, Roxy Theatre of Northampton | Judith Uhlman | Becky Goldenberg | Meta Binder | Andria Zaia | Lycoming Historical Society | The Magnolia Sadies | Zach Martin Jazz Ensemble |Maria Kastrinakis | Parsons/New School | Brick and Mortar | Elaine Greek | Howard McGinn | Elizabeth Mulrine
1910 Excelsior Auto-Cycle, on loan from Marlowe Sigal