19th-Century gift presentations
in free MWPAI exhibit

A bonnet? A ball of yarn? A tub of grain? These are not the manner by which we are accustomed to "wrapping" Christmas gifts, but they are some of the inventive and festive gift-giving containers used in the 19th century and presented in the annual Victorian Yuletide exhibition, in the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, 310 Genesee St., Utica.

The free, public display will be on view through Dec. 31.

Dismiss the contemporary worry about matching ribbons, bows, paper, and tags and learn about some amusing and imaginative ways gifts were exchanged more than a century ago. Many of the more ingenious suggestions for ways by which to exchange gifts were published in 19th-century magazines including Godey’s Lady’s Book, Peterson’s, and The Ladies’ Home Journal. See a "bran pie" when you visit Fountain Elms and guess what treasures might be hidden within.

A tabletop Christmas tree, traditionally referred to as the "giver of gifts," is a highlight in the parlor period setting. Its limbs are not just bedecked with sparkling glass ornaments, but also with presents, many of which are unwrapped. In many households, the Christmas tree was kept behind closed doors until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Not all homes had a Christmas tree. A Bethlehem tree, like the one carefully recreated for Fountain Elms, was a gift-bearing tree used by Sunday schools or others at community gatherings.

In the Fountain Elms dining room, the elaborate centerpiece — large intersecting arches covered with holly, ivy, and mistletoe — is adapted from a design featured in the December 1901 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal. The amusing, gigantic "snowball" centerpiece recreated on the children’s table disguises treats and gifts.

Festive decorations, yards of greenery, and toys, fine silver, and porcelains from the Museum’s collection are featured throughout the exhibition.

On the net: mwpai.org