April 8, 2011

Winterthur and The Tale of Enchanted Woods!

If there was an American country estate I would choose to visit soon, it would be Winterthur! I have always had a fascination for this historical mansion located in Wilmington, Delaware after purhasing two quilts for The Maine House from their textile museum. This time of year would be perfect to plan a weekend trip and stroll among the Azalea Woods, Magnolia Bend, and Enchanted Woods.

A Maine House Mosaic

Stunning landscapes and beautiful architecture envelop Winterthur—an American estate nestled in the hills of Delaware’s Brandywine Valley. Modeled after eighteenth-century British country houses, the Winterthur mansion features incredible antique collections and vintage d├ęcor. From rich tapestries and unique paintings to extravagant furniture and wall coverings, the attention to detail is remarkable.

Winterthur was named for the ancestral Swiss home of Jacques Antoine Bidermann, who in 1837 purchased 450 acres of Delaware land with his wife, Evelina Gabrielle du Pont. They bought it from her father, the founder of the E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. black powder manufacturing firm. The Bidermanns built a three-story, twelve-room Greek Revival home above Clenny Run.

Henry Francis du Pont was born at Winterthur in 1880. He studied horticulture at Harvard’s Bussey Institution, then returned to Winterthur to manage the farm. Du Pont married Ruth Wales in 1916. As was fashionable at the time, the couple favored European furniture. That changed dramatically in 1923, when du Pont, on a trip to Vermont, spotted an American pine dresser filled with pink china. Apparently, he was smitten with the sight and resolved to turn his attention to early American objects.

Henry Francis du Pont collected with a vengeance. Over the years, he purchased more than sixty thousand objects—supplemented since his death to total eighty-five thousand—made or used in America between 1640 and 1860. He acquired furniture, textiles, silver, clocks, needlework, porcelain, oriental rugs, and paintings, as well as architectural features and sometimes entire buildings to serve as backdrops.

Originally, du Pont intended to outfit his Long Island home with the items, but there wasn’t enough space. The solution was to use some of the existing spaces at Winterthur as display areas, then put a nine-story addition on the mansion and furnish the whole thing with the world’s premier collection of early American decorative arts.

Du Pont’s discerning eye, artist’s sensibilities, and penchant for massing similar objects together creates maximum visual impact. He took entire rooms, interpreted them according to his own sensibilities, and lived in them. Appropriate woodwork and other architectural details provide context that would be absent in a typical museum setting. Taken as a whole, Winterthur is a tribute to early American artisans and their useful, beautiful products. Du Pont used his settings, vignettes, and architecture to create a home and museum that continues to inspire, especially when it comes to his ideas of balance, color, and decorating with textiles.

The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum opened to the public in 1951. Ruth and H. F. du Pont moved to a Regency-style “cottage” on-site, now the Museum Store on Clenny Run. Ruth died in 1967, H. F. two years later.

Winterthur's 1,000 acres encompass rolling hills, streams, meadows, and forests. Founder Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) developed an appreciation of nature as a boy that served as the basis for his life's work in the garden. He selected the choicest plants from around the world to enhance the natural setting, arranging them in lyrical color combinations and carefully orchestrating a succession of bloom from late January to November. Du Pont translated his love of the land into a unified work of art that embodies a romantic vision of nature's beauty. In 1956, after he had gardened at Winterthur for seventy years, the Garden Club of America awarded Henry Francis du Pont their Medal of Honor, proclaiming him, “One of the best, even the best, gardener this country has ever produced.” The award cited du Pont as being a master of gardening, noting, "The woodland trees under planted with a profusion of native wildflowers and rhododendron, acre upon acre of dogwood, great banks of azaleas, lilies and peonies, iris and other rare specimens from many lands, each planted with taste and discrimination, each known, loved and watched, looking as though placed there by nature, forms one of the great gardens."

A Maine House Mosaic

The Tale of Enchanted Woods

Once upon a time, long, long ago, a family of adventurers set sail across a great ocean. It was a difficult journey that seemed as if it might never end. But finally, the ship came to a land of rolling green hills, shady forests, and meadows filled with wildflowers and singing birds. The family decided to stay and make the beautiful land their new home.

Soon, the family and friends they met had built cozy farmhouses for themselves and sturdy barns for their animals. They planted gardens brimming with fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The children helped with the chores and learned the names of all the plants and animals.

Each day, after their lessons, the children played outdoors, climbing tall trees, swimming in the ponds, and searching for animal tracks in the snow. But their favorite place to meet was a part of the garden called Oak Hill, where a grove of mighty oaks grew. The children never knew that when they played there, they were not alone.

Now, there is an old saying, "Faerie folks are in old oakes." The woodland fairies are nature spirits who live on Oak Hill. The fairies watched over the children as they played. The children thought it was the wind whistling in their ears when Lark, the music fairy, sang for them. Blossom, the flower fairy, led them to a patch of lilies-of-the-valley so they could pick sweet-smelling bouquets for their mothers. Glimmer, the magician fairy, sometimes played tricks on them. If the children removed their hats and gloves, he would hide them in the strangest places (but he almost always let the children find their things before it was time to go home).

During their growing-up years, the children never actually saw the fairies, but they always had fun and always felt safe on Oak Hill. The years passed, and there came a time when the last child left the beautiful land to make her own farm and garden way of life. The fairies knew that was the way of the world, but they were lonely without the children to play with.

Then, one day, Glimmer had an idea. He said, "Let's make a special garden for children. We can borrow things from the old farm and garden and bring them up here to Oak Hill. We'll need a little magic to make it happen, but I know we can do it! We'll call our garden Enchanted Woods." And so they did.

From the Fairie Gardens.....

Glimmer is the magician fairy. He cleared a passageway beneath the large 'Winterthur' azaleas so you could discover the gigantic face of the Green Man peering up from the ground. Each spring, he wakes the earth from its long winter slumber, and the world becomes green again. Be extra careful at the Forbidden Fairy Ring. It's a circle of mushrooms left by the fairies when they danced at night. Never, ever step inside a fairy ring-if you do, you might disappear into the fairy land…unless, of course, that's what you want to do!!!

And so, dear children, that's the story of how my friends and I made Enchanted Woods.
Remember--when you come to play in the garden, you'll never be alone.
We love you, Cobweb and the fairies (and one elf)

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