With Valentine’s Day now behind us, the big box stores have already cleared out their seasonal shelves for the next holiday. At the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio, however, I found myself surrounded by several hundred years of old valentine cards and mementos adorning the walls, halls, and chairs. Used valentines have a completely separate life from the rows and rows of blank Hallmark cards waiting to be written in and delivered. Removed from the context of whether a valentine is the right gift for a special someone, it is easier to appreciate these pieces simply for the beauty of their making. And the Decorative Arts Center’s cards were absolutely gorgeous. Dating all the way back to the 18th century, the motifs ranged from planes and trains to googly eyes to handcut paper to the wild and wacky. I share a small sample of these intricate works here. The exhibit reminded me that handmade cards and notes, regardless of their quality, continue to be an extraordinary way to express care for people who matter to you. Plus, if you don’t throw away that shoebox of valentines in the back of your closet, they might just end up in a display bringing their love and delight to a whole new audience.

Valentines: Tokens of Love from the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries, curated by Dr George and Jeanne Johnson, is on display until February 27, 2022 at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster. A series of video talks by the curator is available: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.