The massive tree at the center of the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio’s 2018 holiday exhibition, which focuses on Christmas in the United States throughout World War II. The display was curated by George and Jeannie Johnson. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

‘Christmas On the Homefront’ On Display In Lancaster Through Dec. 30

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On Friday, November 23 the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio opened their 2018 holiday exhibition, curated once again by regional historian and retired history teacher Dr. George Johnson and his wife, Jeannie. This year the theme is Christmas on the Home Front, celebrating the unique aspects of what holiday celebrations looked like while the United States was also in the midst of its most intense home front wartime effort during World War II. The exhibition, which is located in the Center’s downstairs Rising Room, is directly related to the exhibition that is currently on display upstairs at the Center — Imagining a Better World: the Artwork of Nelly Toll, which spotlights 40 archival prints of work by artist and Holocaust survivor Nelly Toll.

Curator of “Christmas From the Home Front,” Dr. George Johnson, outside of the Rising Room doors in the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

On Christmas Day, 1944, Allied troops were in the midst of what would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge; a long, bloody entanglement that would be last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during the war. Back in the U.S., CBS broadcasted a Christmas Day radio special featuring the likes of Bing Crosby and other musicians of the era performing tunes heavily influenced by the war effort in the midst of a war that no one was entirely certain would be over soon.

The mantel in the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio’s Rising Room. The mantel is decorated with v-mails, which were sent by soldiers on the front to their loved ones. The letters were photographed and the images of them were transferred to microfilm before being censored so as to not tip off any compromising information about Allied forces. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

A recording of that special plays in the Decorative Art Center of Ohio’s Rising Room, the sound washing over a wide variety of toys from the ’40s (none of which were made of much metal, as that was being preserved for the war effort,) a display of heart touching V-mails, (or “Victory mail,” which were carefully microfilmed, specially designed letter templates that allowed those serving in the war to send mail home to their loved ones without providing any information that could have been advantageous to any forces associated with the Axis,) and even two dolls dressed in ’40s children’s military suits, which were designed to allow children to feel connected to their active military family.

Press materials of various types from the WWII era displayed on a couch in the Rising Room. The center of the display is a newspaper from December 8, 1941 with the declaration of war. Some of the publications on display, “Yank,” “Battle Cry,” and “Stars and Stripes” were produced especially for soldiers. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

“This (exhibition) is a salute to the veterans. (…) We don’t want to forget what that (World War II) was about or what caused that war. And, with the passage of time, I think that sometimes we do slip and forget what it was all about,” said Johnson, referencing the rise of fascism, nationalism, and aggressive foreign policies in Italy, Japan, and Germany throughout the ’20s and ’30s often cited as being why World War II happened in the first place. “This is a reminder of the sacrifice that families made in this time period, both in lives lost and in what they did at home in terms of food and rationing and things like that. There are still a lot of people alive and interested in going to museums who lived through this time period (…) and this for them brings back those memories; hopefully pleasant ones and not sad ones. But even in the sadness, there is a salute to the honor and sacrifices made in that time period by service men and women.”

Listen to WOUB’s entire interview with Johnson, embedded above. The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio is located at 145 East Main Street in Lancaster. The museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission is always free.

Holiday Events at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio

Holiday Open House — Saturday, December 9, 2-4 p.m.

Christmas on the Home Front curator, Dr. George Johnson, will give an informal lecture on the celebration of Christmas in the United States during World War II. Refreshments will be served.

Christmas Crafts (Junior High) — Saturday, December 1, 2-4 p.m. ($13 for members, $15 for non-members)

Instructor Dallas Rienschield will lead teens in a fun afternoon of making their own Christmas village house.

Holiday Ornaments (Grades 1-5) — Sunday, December 2, 2-4 p.m. ($13 for members, $15 for non-members)

Instructor Dallas Rienschield will teach kids how to make their very own Christmas ornaments.