Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Winterthur Museum's Point to Point

Winterthur's Web site describes founder Henry Francis du Pont as an “avid” antiques collector. Merely “avid"? That's like suggesting that Sir Edmund Hillary was a hiker and Hugh Hefner likes to date!

Obsessed is a better word and he had the wherewithal to fuel it, being the great-grandson of the company's founder.

Henry had an “eye” for American decorative art and a great love of horticulture; the latter being part of the family heritage as stewards of the land, beginning in 1802 with E.I's first gardens at Eleutherian Mills.

From 1920 on, although Winterthur the mansion lacked great historic architecture, du Pont purchased important American interiors and installed them, room by room, within a sprawling addition to the mansion. He then filled these rooms with his burgeoning collection of American decorative arts objects and antiques. Finally, like an English country lord, he exalted in establishing a superlative library.

Today, from a collection of more than 85,000 objects made or used in America between 1640 and 1860, Winterthur curators have crafted displays that focus on specific media. Themes in each gallery are built around such questions as: How were these objects made? How were they used? How do we know what they are? Objects selected range from historic clothing and craftsman's tools to exquisite metalworks, ceramics, and paintings.

Most contemporary Delawareans have no comprehension of the breadth of du Pont family philanthropy and how it has impacted us for over two centuries. Scholars use Winterthur's libraries and it is the state's number one tourist attraction save for the beaches. One hundred fifty thousand people visit Winterthur yearly.

Ten percent of them visit one day - the first Sunday in May - Point to Point!

Thirty-one years ago, board member Greta Layton had an idea to fund raise for the institution's educational programs; public school field trips, UD conservator programs and the like. She had been raised in Virginia horse country. “Let's have races over these rolling piedmont hills,” she exclaimed.

Layton called George “Frolic” Weymouth, a du Pont family member, artist in the Wyeth tradition and owner of several horse drawn carriages (one of which would buy a single family home in Fairfax). Frolic joined the “frolic” and two of the most popular Point-to-Point traditions were birthed.

It is an event unlike any other in Delaware; a place to be and be seen. The wearing of hats by women is a major tradition. Tailgating has grown each year, with not only themes for the day but sumptuous repasts catered by the most prestigious regional restaurants. Adult beverages prevail.

And the races! There are five “flat” horse races and three steeplechase races. The full day includes many events for children: “stick” horse races and treasure hunts. For your pooch there is a opportunity for him to complete an obstacle course.

Communications Manager Vicki Saltzman is excited about an innovation for 2009, the 'Painted Ponies Silent Auction.”

“Twenty three artists have painted rocking horses that will be sold not only at Point-to-Point but also on ebay throughout the day. Some of these works are really breathtaking in their creation. We are thrilled and honored to be working with these artists,” she said.

“But the greatest 'point' of Point-to-Point,” exclaims Saltzman, “is the family traditions that have been established over these years. Parents brought their children who now bring their children. Families gather at Winterthur this May day for their reunions. It's a landmark in their heart.”

Aisle Say Sleuthing: Over the years, perhaps thousands of inquisitive Delawareans have pestered Aisle Say on why Winterthur is blessed with its own ZIP code – 19735. “If them, then why not me! Is this not America”! Saltzman explains that when ZIP codes were first unveiled, the estate already had its own postmistress. They applied for and received their own ZIP. The postmistress survives today...although one doubts it's the original one.

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