Home for the Holidays

Article Contributed by
Lisa Yaggie

Did you start singing the Perry Como version of that song in your head?
The Fenton mansion is no ordinary Jamestown home. Built in 1863, during the Victorian era, this Italian villa style house has become a cornerstone of the area’s museum circuit. Throughout the year the home features its permanent exhibits and local favorites such as the Swedish Room, The Underground Railroad, and the living spaces the Fenton family used while in residence.

“A Shiny Bright RETRO Holiday,” this year’s special holiday exhibit at Fenton, really should be on everyone’s must-see list. During the holidays, Jennifer Champ, Fenton Curator & Education Director and staff decorate the entire four floors for the Holiday Season.

Noah Goodling, Executive Director of the Fenton History Center

Bright Shiny Trees
Thanks to local history enthusiast, Tony Piazza, the Fenton holiday display includes many brightly colored aluminum Christmas trees and retro color-wheels. The floor-based rotating color wheels direct different primary colors up onto the foil trees, giving off a dazzling effect. Aluminum Christmas trees were a trend in the late 50s through mid-60s. As with most post-modern art, what was happening in the world in politics and socially, is reflected in the creation of this metal tree.

The race to outer space started in 1957 with the Soviet launch of Sputnik and was at the forefront of that time period’s news. Shiny metal rockets were launching brave astronauts into outer space and the aluminum Christmas tree reflects the desire Americans had to be more modern. The color-wheel was necessary because at that time there wasn’t the technology to provide lights that wouldn’t melt the foil branches.

The Fenton aluminum tree forest is breathtaking. With Holiday music playing softly in the background, visitors wander into the main drawing room and are greeted by more than a dozen different colored wonders. History says the bubble-gum pink ones were the hot commodity but the gold, white and silver ones are stunning, too. To really complete the exhibit in this room, the staff has pulled from the Fenton collection, vintage toys and items from the sixties to display around the trees. You can’t help but exclaim, “hey, I remember THAT!” “A Shiny Bright Retro Holiday” is fun for all ages to experience.

“The Swedish Room”

A First Christmas
Noah Goodling, the new Executive Director of the Fenton History Center, notes that he is excited for his first holiday season with the Fenton. Goodling was born in Warren, PA, went to Allegheny College in Meadville, PA and has worked with the Robert H. Jackson Center with additional experience in Public History as a post-grad with several Indiana museums and institutions.

“All throughout the history center, one can see what makes our town unique,” Goodling said. He is passionate about connecting people with the importance of how history relates to themselves directly. He views all the exhibits, both the seasonal/temporary ones, and the permanent ones, as teaching moments.

The upside down Christmas tree
at the Fenton History Center

Connected to the World
Readers of all ages will fondly recall their school field trips to the Fenton, an opportunity to connect local history to events in this part of the world. Crescent Tools, Maddox voting machines and Lucille Ball, all home-grown and all with displays at the Fenton.

Especially at the holidays, visitors love Befana in the Italian heritage room, and standing in the Swedish room visualizing how cozy life must have been in that home, baking all the traditional Christmas cookies. Goodling credits his mentor from the RHJ Center, Jonathan Schmidtz, with drumming in the importance of connecting people’s lives to their heritage.

Sensory-Sensitive Santa
One new exciting and interesting event at the Fenton is their sensory-sensitive Santa visit. On Saturday, December 16th from 8:30am – Noon, Santa Claus will come to the Fenton to visit with people of all ages and abilities in a safe and sensory friendly environment.

For people with sensory sensitivities, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, this allows them to experience the traditional Santa visit in a calm, less noisy, smaller crowd environment than one might get at a mall setting or large party. If sitting on Santa’s lap isn’t comfortable, then maybe a high-five from Kris Kringle will be enough to light up a child’s holiday spirit! Goodling got the idea for Fenton to host this type of event from a friend who wanted to attend one that was closer than Buffalo, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh. The Fenton is providing a great gift to our community.

Christmas Wish List?
Like any good museum, the tour ends in the gift shop. Paula Bechmann, Membership, Office & Gift Shop Manager, has outdone herself with this year’s Holiday gift offerings. The vintage ornaments catch one’s eye immediately; as do the pastel colored bristle brush ornament trees.

For the history lover, the book selection is fully stocked, including all the local history books. There’s nothing like a wooden yo-yo for a solid stocking stuffer. Bechmann is also showcasing local artisans’ works. There are hand painted porcelain ornaments as well as a unique opportunity provided by Paul Arnone, World War II veteran and active member of the Fenton’s “Vets finding Vets” program. Arnone will craft a Christmas Tree Ladder or Jewelry Tree ladder by personal order. This gift shop has a lot to offer this season.

Tours and More
“The Fenton History Center always has a lot to offer,” Noah Goodling likes to add. “A Shiny Retro Holiday” exhibit will be in place through the January 20th Open Door event. Fenton hours of operation are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and tours are self-guided. Guided tours are available with advance reservations.

For other events throughout the year, such as their Brown Bag lunch talks, you can check out their website at www.fentonhistorycenter.org. Goodling is looking forward to his tenure with the history center and the kind of legacy he can instill. The staff and board of directors are motivated for change, with a focus on new, exciting and significant exhibits.

He doesn’t foresee any exhibits being eliminated, but revisions are called for to help keep the museum fresh and relevant to now. Nostalgia and history go hand in hand but there are always ways to make tweaks that enliven the tour. In the spring, for example, Goodling has plans to offer a Victorian Era dinner event. Even though the theme is traditional and attendees will be encouraged to come dressed in period costume, the dinner will highlight a current food phenomenon, the farm-to-table menu. Goodling hopes to feature locally sourced ingredients in Victorian era recipes.

But for now, when you are looking for something to do, tour the Fenton mansion and explore a shiny, retro holiday. You just can’t beat home sweet home, for the Holidays.

Learn More
Stay posted on events at Fenton. Visit online at fentonhistorycenter.org/ and on Facebook at Fenton History Center.