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Salem Museum Exhibit Features Vintage Valentines

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Wright
Photo Courtesy of Amanda Wright

By Amanda Wright


The new exhibit on display at Salem Museum has connections with Roanoke College. Dr. Robert Stauffer, retired economics professor, is the grandson of J.G. Scott, a commercial artist who designed the Valentines and other holiday cards on display. Stauffer began locating his grandfather’s work around the country when he began collecting local postcards. With the help from online auctioning sites, such as eBay, it has reduced the amount of time and effort it took to amass the collection.

Upon walking into the Powell Gallery of the museum, you are welcomed by a well-lit open space with curators and volunteers on hand to answer questions. The exhibit begins with Scott’s earliest Valentine card and follows a somewhat linear progression through his time as a commercial artist. The exhibit includes paintings constructed during his time serving in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and as a superintendent of a state hospital in Coaldale.

What set his work apart from other commercial artists of the 1920’s to 1960’s are the round cherub faces of the characters and the lively colors on each Valentine. While Scott rarely signed the cards, he authored the text of the majority of them. Some of his creations have moving parts, such as eyes that wiggle. Many of the Valentines have other delightful touches, such as a feather or a stick of gum. Each card has a piece of whimsy specific to the card and that is what makes them collector’s items.

To the far wall, there is a card-making station filled with goodies and papers to create your own card. The table in the center of the room has Valentines collected over the years and are free, up to two cards, during your visit. One Valentine that I picked up had a personal message on the back of it that read, “To Janet from Vera. Who is he, Jan? tsk, tsk – shame on you.” Valentines were not only given to your crush, but also to your friends, much like elementary school.

Speaking with the curator and museum director, John Long, I asked him if technology has somehow made giving Valentine’s cards obsolete. He remarked that this is not so. Valentine’s Day is the second largest holiday of the year, behind Christmas. It seems as though the tradition is alive and well.

This exhibit runs through February and is free to the public, though donations are welcome. The Salem Museum is located on 801 Main Street, a few blocks from the college. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.