December 6th, 2011 at 9:00 am
Did you know that the Brandywine River Museum’s train collection has had the same conductor for 35 years? It’s the responsibility of museum employee Steven Clarke to work year-round to prepare for the six-week display – repairing trains, maintaining the equipment and organizing teams of volunteers for the massive set-up effort.
“Most train displays are either old, wonderful and valuable trains displayed in cases or realistic working models of specific times and locations,” explains Clarke. “We are a combination of both.”
Frequently, Clarke has to play mechanic to rebuild and customize the trains in order to make these objects meant to by toys able to run “industrially” – pulling 150-car freight trains for nine hours straight, seven days a week for six weeks. Clarke compares the train display like prepping for a stage production and his audience is rarely disappointed.
“I don’t think children these days are used to playing with toy trains like they used to,” Clarke continues. “We used to play with toys you built yourself. Children today mostly play with virtual toys, I think, so it’s a novelty to see real things actually doing real things.
“When I was a kid, my Dad was a junior officer and money was tight. When we went somewhere, it was a big deal. That’s why I tell the volunteers that our job is to make the display nice for everyone – it doesn’t matter who you think they are. Everyone who comes, chooses to come here. They easily could have gone somewhere else and we need to be prepared to show them a great display. That tends to be the guiding principle of my showmanship.” Well this sums up our Brandywine Christmas series. Thanks for following along, we hope you all enjoyed reading!
December 5th, 2011 at 9:00 am
Yesterday, you learned the train and ornament tradition of A Brandywine Christmas. Now we will learn another tradition that has been around for quite some time. Another facet of the Brandywine Christmas tradition comes from the legacy of N.C. Wyeth’s youngest daughter, Ann Wyeth McCoy, who began collecting beautiful bisque dolls in her childhood. Through the generosity of her children, more than 60 dolls will be arranged in small groups as though engaged in familiar wintertime activities, dressed in antique doll clothing or costumes designed and sewn by Mrs. McCoy from antique fabrics.
While Mrs. McCoy began collecting the dolls at the age of eight, she didn’t acquire a dollhouse for her beloved toys until 1966 when her husband, artist John McCoy, renovated a former tool shed that was on their summer property near Port Clyde, Maine. Mr. McCoy divided the interior into two floors with six main rooms and added a bow window, chimney and front porch. The “dollhouse” – significantly larger than most – measures 8 x 10 feet and stands 9 ½ feet high, large enough for two people to walk into.
The dollhouse was moved decades ago to the McCoys’ Pennsylvania property and is a featured part of the 2011 Christmas display. During her life, Mrs. McCoy decorated the rooms and furnished them with pieces from her collection. She especially enjoyed decorating the house for Christmas, recalling her own childhood when Christmas was the special purview of her father. From an old fashioned Christmas tree to the scaled reproduction of N. C. Wyeth’s Old Kris that hangs above the mantelpiece in the living room, the McCoy dollhouse is a delightful miniature world.
And so, the question is this: what are you asking for this year at Christmastime? Maybe to experience again the wide-eyed excitement of seeing a train coming around the track? Being able – as an adult – to appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of the dolls your grandmother had in her parlor? Perhaps your family tradition is picking out an annual critter for your tree, in order to one day hand them down to a special little someone. However – and with whomever – you choose to enjoy A Brandywine Christmas, it’s guaranteed to make your holiday season magically bright. Stay tuned for some fun facts about our train collection!
December 2nd, 2011 at 9:00 am
Yesterday, we learned about what A Brandywine Christmas meant for some families. Today, we will take a closer look at what makes this experience so special for many. The trains have been a part of A Brandywine Christmas since 1971, with Steven Clarke serving as the curator for the past 35 years. The layout features “O” gauge trains running on approximately 2,000 feet of track. Both scale model and toy trains are included, including one car that features a camera to provide an engineer’s view through a mounted monitor. Some train “celebrities” – a.k.a. Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends – can often been seen in the layout which is home to a town, a working train yard, model dairy, quarry, oil refinery, concrete plant and Herrs Food factory. And yes, even Santa and his sleigh fly over the busy scene.
Just as famous as the train display – perhaps even more so – is the grand collection of whimsical “critter” ornaments that appear every holiday season. The critters, made by volunteers from dried flowers, grasses, seeds and pods, fill several themed Christmas trees within the museum. For many families, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without admiring these natural little charmers who have been around since the early days of the museum when a group of volunteers decorated a small tree with natural materials, to emphasize the museum’s role as part of the Brandywine Conservancy.
Those first ornaments were somewhat simple creations, but as the years have gone by, the critters have become more and more elaborate, eventually gaining national attention. In 1984, museum volunteers were asked to decorate the main Christmas tree in the Reagan White house and more than 3,000 critters were required for the project. Critters have also been on display at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. No matter where they are, they always bring delight to the audiences who admire them.
“In addition to the trains, my daughters also loved the Christmas trees adorned with ornaments made from pinecones, twigs, and other forest finds,” continues Fackler, the mom of two from Ambler, PA. “They were so delighted to see the little “woodland creatures” the artists created.”
And artists, they are. Every year, over 100 volunteers give Santa’s elves a run for their money as they gather to create the ornaments in a workshop on the conservancy campus. These dedicated critter creators work for over 30,000 hours in order to make almost 9,000 ornaments – some for display, but most for the popular Annual Critter Sale, scheduled this year for Saturday, December 3rd and Sunday, December 4th from 9:30am to 4:30pm. (Following the sale, critters can be purchased at the Museum Shop with proceeds benefiting the Volunteers’ Art Purchase Fund, which has added more than 200 paintings, drawings and prints to the Museum’s holdings since 1975.) That’s all for today folks! Please come back tomorrow to learn more about this special occasion!
Founded in 1971, the Brandywine River Museum holds American art, especially the foremost collection of art by members of the Wyeth family, including N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth. The museum also features renowned collections of American illustration, landscape and still life painting. The museum is located in a restored, mid-19th century grist mill on U.S. Route 1 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania along the banks of the Brandywine River. A Brandywine Christmas runs from November 25th, 2011 through January 8th, 2012. The museum is open daily, 9:30am to 4:30pm, except Christmas Day, and with extended hours until 6:00pm December 26th through 30th. Admission is $10 for adults; $6 for seniors ages 65 and over, students, and children over six; free for children under six and museum members. Due to the large number of visitors during the holiday season, the museum is unable to accommodate baby strollers. For more information, call 610-388-2700 or visit www.brandywinemuseum.org.
December 1st, 2011 at 9:00 am
Every December, the Brandywine River Museum transforms into an old-fashioned winter wonderland, faithfully delivering the Christmas spirit to children of all ages.
Christmas is truly a magical time. All you have to do is take a few moments and watch the anticipation of a child filling out his Christmas list, trying to choose which Christmas cookie she should take off the tray or staring in amazement as they sit on the lap of a man with a long white beard.
Sometimes, these days, catching those moments is a little more challenging than it used to be. In a world where everything seems to be instant, it’s important to take time to appreciate loved ones and make memories…and that’s what makes A Brandywine Christmas at the Brandywine River Museum such a beloved tradition.
For decades, families have visited the museum to see the extensive model train layout, adorable and all-natural “critter” ornaments and charming antique doll collection as an important part of their own holiday celebration. As a matter of fact, A Brandywine Christmas is such a Delaware Country tradition that it isn’t very difficult to find people enthusiastic about the memories they have.
“We went to the River Museum when my children were 6 and 7 years old,” says Susan Taylor, an Army wife currently living in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “It was a tough Christmas for us (as their Dad was deployed in Iraq at the time) so I was all about making memories for them. The trains at the Brandywine River Museum did not disappoint! We were all just blown away by the details in the displays; we even talked about which one we would pick to live in if we could. It was especially neat to share this experience with my own parents – showing that this truly is an attraction that appeals to all ages.”
Janel Fackler, a stay-at-home mother of two from Ambler, Pennsylvania, agrees that the exhibit is a great one to visit.
“I took my daughters, ages 2 & 4, to the Brandywine River Museum, along with my parents and my sister,” she explains. “The train display was definitely a highlight of the visit for all of us. My father, who has been a train enthusiast for years, both enjoyed and appreciated the intricacy of the set and my daughters loved that there were so many moving parts, and that they could look for Santa in the scene. This was a fun, inexpensive day trip, which added to the magic of the Christmas season.”
The trains – as well as the entire seasonal display – have also been an important tradition to the Naismith family of Media, Pennsylvania.
“We have gone almost every year with the boys, from toddler age to last year at ages 18, 16 and 14,” says mom Louise. “They love to see the additions and changes to the layout. We even “steal” ideas for our own train setup under our tree!” Please check back tomorrow for some more train and ornament stories!