YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – After being forced to cancel last year, The Arms Family Museum will again invite guests to step into another era at its Memories of Christmas Past exhibition.
The museum will be transformed into the warm and welcoming home that it was when Olive F.A. Arms and her husband, Wilford, lived there.
Authentic decorations from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century will be arranged through the wood-paneled rooms, with a special emphasis on making the home look as it might have when the Armses lived there.
The mansion was built in 1905 as the home of the local industrialist and his wife who dubbed it Greystone.
An artist with an eye for design who took great pride in the home, Olive died in 1960. Her husband died in 1947.
The annual Memories exhibit was started 13 years ago and has since become a Valley tradition. It was canceled last year because of the pandemic and the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, which owns the museum, is eager to welcome guests back.
The exhibition will open Nov. 20 and will run through Dec. 31.
Visitors who stroll through the period rooms will step into the past. They may also rediscover memories of their own childhood.
To Anthony Worrellia, who has created the exhibition every year, that is the best part.
“I’ve had grown men come in here and get a tear in their eye,” he says. “There is something about Christmas that triggers those memories of your childhood, and your parents. I get emotional talking about it because it’s that powerful. People have said to me, ‘Thanks for doing this. I lost my mother or father, and this got me through the holidays. I couldn’t put up decorations, but I came here and if felt like home.’”
Worrellia, of Youngstown, is the grounds supervisor of the Arms. But more importantly, he is an antiques dealer and a collector of vintage Christmas decorations.
HOW IT STARTED
The idea for the exhibition was born about 15 years ago when two MVHS employees visited Worrellia’s home and saw his collection.
The first Memories exhibition opened in 2008 and was an instant success.
Worrellia’s love of vintage decorations has its roots in his childhood.
He grew up in the Smoky Hollow neighborhood. His mother worked at the Strouss Department Store downtown, and he would walk down to visit her most days and get a malt.
In those days, Strouss – like all downtown department stores – went all out in decorating for Christmas. Worrellia remembers the festive display windows and has since obtained items from them for his personal collection.
For the Memories of Christmas Past exhibition, Worrellia uses pieces from his own collection and some lent to him by other collectors.
The Arms mansion is the perfect backdrop for the show, he says. This year, he wants visitors to feel as though they are being welcomed home by Olive Arms after being away for too long.
“We have no idea how she decorated, but being an artist she had a sophisticated level of fine furnishings,” he says. “You’ll see that in every room.”
In creating displays, Worrellia is sensitive to the house’s interior.
He makes decisions on colors, decorations and layout so that they look
natural and not like part of an exhibition.
“It looks like that’s how Mrs. Arms did it,” he says.
To make this year’s exhibit even more of an homage to Olive Arms, Worrellia has placed exquisite dresses owned by the lady of the house in each room. Worrellia says each handmade dress is a work of art.
The Memories exhibition is visually sumptuous – so rich that some might say it goes beyond historical.
Not so, Worrellia says.
“In the German tradition, people would remove the furniture from their family room and create huge scenes,” he says. “When people see this dynamic, over-the-top exhibit, they think it’s exaggerated. But in the early 1900s, people decorated their houses like that.”
CAPTURED ON VIDEO
The Memories of Christmas Past exhibition is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the MVHS.
To inspire folks to return, the organization has created a series of videos that will air on local television and on social media.
As with the exhibit, every effort was made to capture the historical accuracy of the period and the skilled touch of Olive Arms.
Youngstown-based musician Caitlin Hedge portrays Arms in each video. Local singer Mary Jo Maluso serves as narrator.
The videos were created by Chris Rutushin, multimedia specialist for the MVHS. He studied photos of Arms to capture her likeness.
“We wanted to make it as historically accurate as possible,” he says.
Hedge wears a vintage dress in the videos and her hair is styled in the fashion of the era.
“She brings Olive to life,” Rutushin says. “Hopefully, when people see the videos they’ll become interested in Olive and have questions. It will be a conversation starter: ‘Who was Olive Arms? What did she do?’
“She was a very progressive woman. She designed the entire house and was a wonderful artist.”
IF YOU GO
The Memories of Christmas Past exhibition opens Nov. 20 at the Arms Family Museum, 648 Wick Ave., Youngstown, and will run through Dec. 31.
Masks are required for entry.
For the duration of the exhibition, the museum will be open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., and until 7 p.m. on Thursdays. It will also be open on Dec. 27 from noon to 4 p.m.
The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
In addition to the traditional gift shop in the museum, which will feature many vintage items for sale, MVHS will set up a second gift shop in the admissions area with new holiday merchandise.
Admission is $10 ($9 for seniors 60 and up and college students with ID), and $8 for children (3-18). Children under 3, active military and veterans will be admitted free. Worrellia will lead tours on select Tuesdays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Call 330 743 2589 for reservations.
Pictured: Caitlin Hedge portrays Olive F.A. Arms in a series of video spots created for the Memories of Christmas Past exhibition.