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A Glimpse of Magical Christmases Past

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In celebration of the extraordinary dollhouse recently gifted to Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Yuletide at Winterthur 2016 will highlight the holidays through a child’s eyes in the 19th and 20th centuries and feature the exquisite house-in-miniature as a central attraction. Winterthur received this remarkable gift from Jack D. McDaniel, husband of the late Nancy B. McDaniel (1932–2015), designer of the dollhouse, which will be on display in the Galleries Stair Hall Nov. 19–Jan. 8.

To celebrate the house’s debut, Yuletide at Winterthur will highlight the holidays as experienced by children from 1850 to 1950, and feature museum room displays that include Winterthur’s own collections of miniature objects. In a nod to Winterthur’s current exhibition, “Lasting Impressions: The Artists of Currier & Ives,” Yuletide will explore why a “Currier & Ives Christmas” is so beloved and still resonates with people today. “In the era of 19th-century Currier & Ives, the notion that Christmas is for children began to take lasting hold in the mind of Americans. This year, Yuletide will explore several scenes of a holiday made special for, and by, children,” says Yuletide curator Deborah Harper. “In addition, a special attraction that will make Yuletide truly magnificent is the extraordinary dollhouse filled with exquisite miniature furnishings generously gifted to Winterthur. This remarkable dollhouse complements Winterthur’s collection of 18th- and 19th-century miniature objects that H.F. du Pont acquired and displayed, while the meticulous arrangement of the dollhouse rooms reveal Nancy McDaniel shared du Pont’s keen eye for detail and design.”

The late Nancy McDaniel of Connecticut and Florida was an interior decorator who operated her own home decorating and holiday design company. During a family trip to England, she was captivated by Queen Mary’s dollhouse at Windsor Castle and inspired to have her own. The dollhouse, custom built in England in 1985 to McDaniel’s specifications, is impressive—6-foot-4 by 3-feet-9, slate-roofed and fully electrified. It houses more than 1,000 objects lovingly assembled by creator McDaniel over 30 years. These include over 100 pieces of sterling silver, and a rug in each room that McDaniel needlepointed herself. Just in time for the holidays, the 18-room house is fully decorated with wreaths, candles, trees and more miniature delights.

As visitors tour Yuletide, they will experience how the rising popularity of the Christmas tree resulted in a new industry of commercially made ornaments, and discover a new way of distributing gifts via a giant spider’s web, with packages caught in its gleaming tangle of ribbons. A very special Christmas in the White House in the early 1900s saw the president’s son decorating a Christmas tree in secret to surprise his family, including the family pets! Several displays will recall holiday festivities enjoyed by children at Winterthur in the first half of the 20th century. These include H.F. du Pont’s classic 1930s Christmas tree, awash with colorful lights and glittering glass ornaments. Baskets under the tree, one for each person, held a personal treasure trove of gifts. Christmas Eve brought Mr. Harry’s Party, the holiday event the du Ponts hosted for their staff, with a Christmas tree, professional entertainers, ice cream made from the rich milk of the Winterthur dairy herd, and gifts personally selected by H.F. du Pont for all of the children of Winterthur’s estate workers. Christmas dinner shows us a table specially decorated with miniature trees, reindeer and paper doll Santas—clearly designed with children in mind.

Leaving Christmas behind, Yuletide will showcase a holiday celebration very special to the du Pont family: the annual New Year’s Calling. This yearly visitation found the ladies gathering in family homes to await the gentlemen, who spent the day making the rounds, bestowing small gifts in exchange for the hospitality the ladies offered in punch cups and wine glasses. Little girls learned to be gracious hostesses while receiving with their mothers, while the little boys in the du Pont family gallantly made the rounds with their fathers. As always, the rooms will be enhanced with the floral displays so essential to du Pont’s decorating, and with special Christmas trees inspired by the beauty of the Winterthur garden—including the popular Dried Flower Tree in the Conservatory. The dollhouse is planned for display each year during the Yuletide season, and there is every expectation it will become an eagerly anticipated part of Winterthur’s holiday offerings.

For more, visit www.Winterthur.org.

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