CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — Sixty years ago, "The Mouse Before Christmas", a holiday puppet show written by Dr. George R. Creegan and starring Pip the Mouse, made its world premiere at Hess’s Department Store in Center City Allentown. Kids from one to 92 delighted in the tale which would go on to entertain generations.
When Hess’s closed in the mid-'90s, Pip the Mouse moved to the Liberty Bell Shrine Museum in Allentown, where it has been staged every holiday season since. But after six decades and countless performances, pieces of its last remaining set were beginning to deteriorate.
Liberty Bell Shrine Museum board member Patrick Vance set a goal — to create a charity community Pip the Mouse set able to travel from one performance to another. The original pieces are unable to be moved due to their delicate condition. Vance approached Ann Lalik, lecturer and director of the Ronald K. DeLong Gallery at Penn State Lehigh Valley, about working on a project. Lalik then reached out to Christina Galbiati, instructor and lecturer, graphic design, about turning the set design into a student project. “I’d only been teaching Intro to Graphic Design, but when I was approached about teaching COMM 441 [Advanced Graphic Design], I thought this project was more appropriate for this course,” Galbiati said. “I thought this would be a great opportunity for students to learn the advanced-level design programs the course required.”
Galbiati started her planning for the project over the summer, and the students were assigned the project at the beginning of the semester, with the files submitted and the project essentially wrapped up by the end of November. “This was a purely technical exercise,” Galbiati said. “That’s why we started at the beginning of the semester — we talked about the technical aspects of large-scale installation design. I think it was a great lesson in working with a client and meeting deadlines.”
Two of Galbiati’s students, Allyshia Mohr and Zoe O’Grady, were required to recreate the set in vector format using Adobe Illustrator. The students were able to meet with Vance prior to starting on the project to get a better understanding of the project scope, the history of Pip the Mouse, and Vance’s plans for the show’s future. “It made it easier to work on it after that, when we saw how passionate he is about it,” Mohr said. “It was really cool — he showed us an old picture of the set at Hess’s on Hamilton Street.”
The project was a great hands-on learning experience for the students, as it allowed them to show their range and gave them the unique opportunity to play a small role in preserving a beloved chapter of Lehigh Valley’s history. “I think the students were really excited to be part of something historic and rooted in Allentown, as well as give back to an organization,” Galbiati said. “They could participate in such a historic concept, and then there was the idea of working with a client and going through that process. It was great to give them an actual project using real life concepts, not just a paper or presentation.”
Ideally, Pip the Mouse will not just stay at the Liberty Shrine Museum. Pending funding, Vance plans to take the new mobile site to venues like nursing homes, homeless shelters, and children’s hospitals to make the season a little brighter for everyone. Mohr loves that idea. “Working on something large scale that will eventually be put into production was just so crazy. I’m more proud of the fact that this will be taken into the community. It helps to show I was committed to a project that was bigger than school — it was more than just something for a grade.”