UD visitors will see the Chinese Parlor decorated for Yuletide, including Mrs. Henry Francis du Pont’s 1907 Steinway piano, which she loved to play to entertain guests. Image courtesy of Winterthur

Yuletide at Winterthur

Campus community invited to special UD Night at Yuletide at Winterthur

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4:15 p.m., Dec. 4, 2013--You can almost hear the gaiety of Christmases past on this year’s Yuletide tour at Winterthur, which showcases holiday traditions from the 1700s to the present. 

Decades ago, in the mansion’s Chinese Parlor, amid the sparkle of holiday lighting and the natural beauty of red roses and amaryllis, Ruth du Pont, a Peabody-trained musician, loved to play her Steinway piano to entertain guests to the stately childhood home of her husband, the avid collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont.

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This striking room decked out for the holidays is just one of many sights University of Delaware visitors will see at the special UD Night @ Yuletide at Winterthur on Wednesday, Dec. 11, from 5:30–9 p.m. 

The event, which is open to all UD graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and staff, is sponsored by Graduate Student Government, the Office of Graduate and Professional Education, and Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. 

Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children. Reservations are required, and may be made by contacting the Winterthur Reservation Office at 800-448-3883.

“We not only want to bring the UD community together to celebrate the Yuletide, but also the longstanding partnership between the University and Winterthur that provides graduate students with truly world-class opportunities for scholarship and research,” says Alexander Ames, a master’s student in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture and vice president of internal affairs for Graduate Student Government.

Decorative lighting through the ages will be featured during the tour, from the Swedish ljuskrona, an iron candelabra wrapped in paper and used as a table display on Christmas Eve, to the colorful bubble lights of the 1950s that adorned the Christmas tree at “Mr. Harry’s Party,” an annual celebration for the house staff that included gifts for all. 

In addition to the selected rooms ornately decorated for the holidays at the 175-room estate, the tour highlights the Yuletide season’s importance as a time for marriage for traditional farming-based communities. 

On display are a white wedding gown from the mid-1800s (when white gowns came into vogue, thanks to Queen Victoria) and a candlelit ballroom with a chalked floor featuring two swans at the center. 

As Winterthur’s Curator of Education Deborah Harper explains, it was not uncommon for weddings to last two to three days. During that time, people danced “morning, noon and night.” Chalk on the floor helped keep the dancers (in their smooth-soled dress shoes) from slipping.

Although the du Ponts had four residences, they always came home to Winterthur for Christmas, Harper notes. A market basket placed next to each person’s chair in the Marlboro Room conveniently held each person’s gifts. But the gifts were far from ostentatious, according to Harper.

“The family would come into this room after lunch on Christmas Day and tuck into their baskets,” Harper says. “It was very structured and neat — ‘we live very simply at Winterthur,’ Mr. du Pont said. Books, candies, ties were common gifts.” 

Less common and not particularly well-liked, according to family records, was a hot pink cover for a hot water bottle, which Mrs. du Pont received one year. 

Graduate student orientation session 

Prior to the Yuletide tour, a free orientation session for UD graduate students will focus on the research collections available at Winterthur.

Among them is the 250,000-piece John and Carolyn Grossman Collection, one of the largest advertising collections in the United States. Jolly Santas, peaceful angels, and cats throwing snowballs decorate ephemera (objects of everyday life) of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, from Christmas cards to toy catalogs.  

Such collections provide students in multiple disciplines with unique opportunities for exploration, according to Emily Casey, UD doctoral student in art history. 

“Although Winterthur is a premier museum of American furniture and decorative arts, its collections span many regions of the world, time periods and disciplines,” Casey says. “You find these really juicy objects that can spin out stories in different ways. You wouldn’t get this from books.”  

Casey, who is from Lancaster, Pa., will help introduce graduate students to Winterthur’s resources and how they can support research and scholarship, whether for a seminar paper, independent project or thesis. 

The free orientation session, from 4–5:30 p.m., will include a visit to the library, behind-the-scenes access to the collection, and an opportunity to chat over light refreshments with graduate students about their experiences studying and researching at Winterthur. The first 10 students to register (RSVP to eccasey@udel.edu) also will receive complimentary admission to UD Night @ Yuletide at Winterthur. 

Article by Tracey Bryant

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