- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

The Smithsonian Institution opened an exhibition Friday featuring iconic commercial art and images from Christmas seasons past — including holiday parade memorabilia and window displays from such department stores as Marshall Field and John Wanamaker’s.

“Holiday celebrations with their festive parades and animated window displays have always had a place in American history,” said museum Director Brent D. Glass. “This exhibition looks closer at these commercial displays to understand the emotional responses evoked by them and why they hold such treasured memories for many people.”

The free exhibition, Holidays on Display, is at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and focuses on displays from the 1920s to the 1960s.

The photographs, postcards and illustrations of floats are in part from Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Tournament of Roses Parade.

The exhibition shows visitors how the floats and retail displays were made by the same companies and shared common construction materials and techniques.

The floats of the early 20th century typically heralded a product, whether coal or toys. But by the 1920s, the themes shifted to consumer-oriented fantasies of home and community life. Then innovations — including parade-float kits — opened access to artistic design, and new materials such as floral sheeting, large helium balloons and mechanizations that elevated floats to their more modern, custom-made configurations. The holiday displays also created emotional bonds between the store and shoppers, according to the museum.

“Even today, ‘the storybook style’ of the 1920s’ holiday display, noted for its village scenes and walk-through attractions, remains popular as the visual announcement of Christmas,” the museum said.