There are two experiences I’d recommend for your holiday bucket list. Time is running out on one; the other is settled into brand new winter quarters with some great offerings for the darker months of the year.
Winterthur, perhaps the best known of the Wilmington, Del.-area homes of the du Pont family, always dresses up for the holidays. But the big draw this holiday season has little to do with decorations. The Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit is entering the last month of its 10-month run and is smashing all attendance records at the museum. The exhibit closes Jan. 4, but is well worth seeing even if you’re not a regular fan of the PBS show.
The staff at Winterthur did a magnificent job of using the popularity of Downton Abbey to show us how life at Winterthur (and the other grand American country houses) during the first third of the 20th century mirrored the great English country homes of the same period (represented by the real Highclere Castle in Downton Abbey).
The exhibit follows a typical day, with its many changes of clothing for both family and staff, and matches costumes from the show with video clips and photographs that put the costumes in context. While two of the costumes on display are actual vintage dresses from the time period, most were designed and created by London costumers in the seven weeks between receiving scripts and actual filming. Nearly all the costumes have some vintage elements that they are built around.
Cleverly mixed into the exhibit are artifacts from Winterthur that show how the lifestyles of American and British aristocrats resembled each other. Henry Francis du Pont’s traveling trunk carried the many changes needed for a simple weekend party, including his favorite tux, and Mrs. du Pont’s traveling make-up case, even when empty, weighed 17 pounds. Naturally, a valet and maid were responsible for all of the luggage and the head butler was responsible for the large silver service used for afternoon tea — just as in the grand English country homes.
Timed tickets are offered at winterthur.org. Don’t miss out.
The other bucket list item is a visit to the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s new home for a Shakespeare or non-Shakespeare production. The former Mercantile Deposit and Trust Company building, just two blocks from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, is one of the few to survive the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Inside, the double-walled construction and original columns, vaults, and ornate ceiling join with a thrust stage and comfortable seating to create an intimate theater experience.
The indoor schedule includes A Christmas Carol (through Dec. 23), Uncle Vanya (Feb. 13–March 1), The Importance of Being Earnest (Feb. 27–March 23), and Romeo and Juliet (April 10–May 10). The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company returns to its outdoor venue in Ellicott City, Md., for The Comedy of Errors, June 12–July 19.
Tickets and information are available at chesapeakeshakespeare.com.