Highlights of Christmas at Glencairn include Neapolitan Presepio, PA traditions, castle finds, more
Museum hosts exhibitions, tours and programs for all ages Nov. 25-Jan.8
BRYN ATHYN, MONTGOMERY CO, PA (16 November 2016)—Whether it’s the first time or an annual tradition, families visiting Glencairn Museum this holiday season will be feasting their eyes on a wealth of treasures, many never seen before.
“Christmas at Glencairn is a visually rich and meaningful experience,” says Ed Gyllenhaal, who curates the museum’s acclaimed collection of religious art and architecture as well as the popular exhibitions assembled each Christmas season. “We exhibit Christmas art and artifacts from both past and present, and explore how individuals celebrate the holiday here in Pennsylvania and around the world.”
Opening the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, November 25, Glencairn offers a 45-minute guided “Christmas in the Castle” tour and World Nativities and Christmas in Pennsylvania self-guided exhibitions every day through January 8 except for December 12, 13, 24 and 25. The exhibitions are open from noon till 4:30 daily.
Reservations are strongly recommended for the “Christmas in the Castle” tour—call 267.502.2990 to schedule your visit for a tour M-F 1:30 & 2:30pm; Sat & Sun 1:00, 1:30 & 2:30pm. Cost is $12 adults, $10 students/65+, half price Basic members, free for Gold and Patron members and children 3 and under—and includes the World Nativities and Christmas in Pennsylvania exhibitions. Without the guided tour, suggested donation for both special exhibitions is $5pp.
In addition, the museum at 1001 Cathedral Road in Bryn Athyn hosts the annual Christmas Sing Concert on December 13, a three-Saturday manuscript-writing workshop with a world-class iconographer starting December 3 and a special Christmas tour program on December 6 and 8 designed for homeschoolers. For details, times, reservations and costs on all of these: http://glencairnmuseum.org/christmas-at-glencairn or 267.502.2990.
“I’m very excited about the material we have on exhibition this year,” says Gyllenhaal. “We’ve developed close working relationships with other institutions that have Christmas collections, and they have loaned us some real treasures.” Here are highlights visitors should look for when they come to Glencairn this holiday season:
This year the World Nativities exhibition features a local treasure: a Neapolitan Presepio, or Nativity scene, containing more than 100 figures made in Naples, Italy, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and collected by the late Elizabeth Anne Evans of Penndel, Bucks County, over a 30-year period during her annual visits to Italy. Occupying the “inglenook” (fireplace area) in Glencairn’s Great Hall, the Presepio presents a highly realistic and detailed recreation of life in the busy port city of Naples. Besides the Holy Family, angels, the Wise Men and shepherds, viewers will find the high and low life of a city filled with people from many lands, exotic animals and the period costumes typical of both the aristocracy and peasants. The Presepio is on loan from the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philadelphia.
For many years, “Christmas in the Castle” tour guides pointed to the spot over the fireplace in the Upper Hall where a large painting, “The Christ Child,” overlooked the family’s Christmas. The painting was damaged beyond repair in the 1970s, before Glencairn opened to the public. This year the space is filled for the first time by a fresh interpretation of “The Christ Child” painted by Bryn Athyn artist Edwin Herder. A successful commercial illustrator now pursuing his love of portraiture and oils, Herder recently completed the piece using as source material an original illustration in The Christ Child, a children’s book by Maud and Mishka Petersham published in 1931, and photographs of Frank Snyder’s interpretation of that illustration, which he painted for Glencairn in the late 1930s.
This year’s guided tour also includes a newly discovered Pitcairn family Christmas decoration, a delightful table centerpiece. Santa in his sleigh with a magnificent reindeer is a candy container, probably made in the 1920s. The head of the reindeer comes off to reveal a silver-colored cardboard compartment for holding candy. This well-known class of German candy containers is prized by collectors. They were a cottage industry in Germany, with families decorating up to fifteen figures per week in their homes. John Wanamaker, a department store in Philadelphia (the building is now Macy’s), was one of the main importers of these candy containers.
The museum’s Christmas in Pennsylvania exhibition, with objects and images from the collections of the National Christmas Center and Museum in Lancaster and the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University, show how Christmas was celebrated in the city of Philadelphia and in the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some Pennsylvania Dutch families covered the walls of their parlors with an evergreen bower, and the exhibition features a bower with dozens of handmade Victorian-period ornaments. In the city of Philadelphia and its suburbs, Christmas began with a trip downtown to see the department stores on Market Street. In the 1950s Wanamaker’s built a six-story high “Christmas Cathedral” in the store’s Grand Court and held concerts that featured the Wanamaker Organ and audience caroling.
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GLENCAIRN MUSEUM, a National Historic Landmark and part of the Bryn Athyn Historic District (including Cairnwood, built 1892-95, and Bryn Athyn Cathedral, 1913-19), houses a collection of religious art and artifacts from around the world and serves as a museum of the history of religion. Glencairn itself, built in the Romanesque style between 1928 and 1939 by Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn for their family’s home, was given to the Academy of the New Church in 1980 after Mildred Pitcairn’s death. A treasure open to the public, Glencairn Museum now offers tours of its tower and 6 floors depicting world religious history as well as a glimpse into the family’s personal life, visiting art and object exhibits, workshops, concerts, seasonal programs and its popular annual “Christmas in the Castle” tour featuring outstanding examples of Nativity art. For more on the Museum or becoming a member: 267.502.2600, info@GlencairnMuseum.org or www.GlencairnMuseum.org.