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Discovering the Legacy of the Man Who Invented Christmas

PUBLISHED: 09:27 13 November 2015 | UPDATED: 09:27 13 November 2015

L Frank Baum was an early and important innovator in festive window dressing

L Frank Baum was an early and important innovator in festive window dressing

Archant

Celebrating the legacy of lavish displays, Professor Barry Davies is presenting a Christmas themed public lecture at the University of Gloucestershire on Wednesday 25 November.

‘The Man who invented Christmas’ is inspired by L Frank Baum, author of books including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, whose ‘illusion windows’ made him an early and important innovator in festive window dressing.

Professor Davies, an Emeritus professor and former Associate Dean of the University’s business school, will be exploring the retail impact of Christmas, from L Frank Baum’s enchanting window displays to how Christmas is marketed today, in the high street and beyond.

Barry said: “Baum was an incredible innovator and his displays literally stopped shoppers in their tracks. I’m looking forward to discussing how we are still fascinated by window dressing and advertising today, but also, like Baum, remain conscious of the business and retail motives behind the glitz.”

Professor Davies began lecturing at the University of South Wales in 1980, and first came to the University of Gloucestershire as professor in marketing in 1996. He worked in retailing (not doing window displays) for nine years before moving into academia.

The lecture is free and the evening begins at 5pm with refreshments, before the lecture from 6pm until 7pm. To book your place, please visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-man-who-invented-christmas-tickets-19203019749

Here’s some more...

From the High Street to the Yellow Brick Road, the impact of the ‘man who invented Christmas’ is taking centre stage at the University of Gloucestershire.

It’s come a long way from a home-made gift and a bag of nuts. But from the village shop to the High Street chain, the Victorian Christmas still inspires our High Streets today.

And although he may be better known for immortalizing the Yellow Brick Road, the vision of L Frank Baum still paves our streets with colour and light.

The author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was also one of the earliest pioneers of the Christmas window display and the story of his legacy is at the heart of a public lecture at the University of Gloucestershire thanks to a public lecture by Emeritus Professor Barry Davies.

Held on November 25, The Man Who Invented Christmas focuses on Baum’s early innovations in display merchandising. Although he never trained as a window dresser, he published his The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors: A Complete Manual of Window Trimming, Designed as an Educator in all the Details of the Art, According to the Best Accepted in 1900.

It wasn’t the only work he published that year. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz also appeared in bookshops and was a sensation long.

Barry, former Associate Dean of the University of Gloucestershire’s Business School, spent nine years working in retail before making the move to academia.

“I didn’t do window dressing either, but even in the digital age today’s windows owe a great deal to Baum’s vision. He took advantage of the recent technological changes of the day, which enabled windows to be bigger using sheet glass. Electric lighting was also taking hold and the changeover from windows stuffed with merchandise to a more creative approach was becoming a reality.”

Along with Christmas adverts, television specials and sales, the Christmas window display has become a seasonal tradition. For those hardy enough to brave Christmas shopping on the streets of London, Hamleys, Fortnum and Mason, and Harrods are just a few of the stores bring a sense of occasion to the shopping experience, in the same way as Baum at the end of the 19th century.

“He was a great advocate of mechanical trickery, and ‘illusion windows’,” said Barry. “One example he discussed in his work was ‘the vanishing lady’ by Charles W Morton, which fascinated shoppers. These new techniques were a world away from the confusion of goods in shop windows. With a keen sense of the theatrical he created window space for ideas to move, and bring customers through the door.”

Baum reached window dressing through an unconventional route, with a diverse career including retail as the owner of Baum’s Bazaar, performing and writing for the theatre, and as an editor and journalist, including editing a window dressing magazine. He launched a monthly trade journal, The Show Window: A Journal of Practical Window Trimming for the Merchant and the Professional in 1897 and founded the National Association of Window Trimmers of America.

“Baum really paved the way for the retailers of today,” added Barry, “and I like to think there’s a little bit of his legacy in every window we see today.”

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