Museum curator creates Santa exhibits for campus, community
Santa made a stop in mid Michigan this holiday season with a little help from a collector at the Michigan State University Museum.
Museum curator of history Val Berryman installed seven Santa-themed exhibits on campus and in the Lansing area. The on-campus Santa exhibits include the MSU Museum, Anthony Hall Dairy Store, MSU Student Union and the fourth floor of the Spartan Stadium Tower.
The MSU Museum currently features Berryman’s “Crackers & Biscuits, An English Christmas.” The display includes 19th and early 20th century cookie tins and noisemakers. The exhibit runs through Jan. 24 at the museum.
Berryman has collected Christmas-related illustrations, cards, figurines and decorations since 1984. He traveled to London to purchase his first 19th century biscuit tin. As a member of a Christmas memorabilia club, Berryman has picked up several items at collector’s conferences. Recently he has found many items on E-bay.
“My favorite item in the exhibit is a set of three pieces,” Berryman said. “It’s an English biscuit tin from about 1895 and then a ceramics firm in Staffordshire, England copied that design as a teapot—they put a spout and a handle on it—copied the exact same shape with the imagery on it of an Indian elephant hunt in India. They were threatened with a lawsuit if they continued to copy it. They came to an agreement to just do the images in a monochrome rather than in full color like the original tin was.
So I found the tin, I found the full color tea pot that copied it, and I found one of the monochrome tea pots all within a year which I thought was just amazing because all three of them are pretty rare pieces.”
What began as a predominantly American Santa collection has evolved to include Christmas memorabilia from around the world.
Berryman says the oddest items of his collection include several images of Krampus, a devilish character originating from Austria and Southern Germany. Krampus accompanies Saint Nicholas on Christmas Eve and brings switches to spank the bad children. The Krampus images are on display at the MSU Union in the “Christmas around the Globe” exhibit.
For another exhibit, Berryman was asked to fill an empty storefront of old Knapp’s building for the Silver Bells in the City in downtown Lansing. The display features life-size Santa cutouts advertising various products.
For a full list of Santa venues, visit museum.msu.edu.