Holiday Children's Stories Come to Life at the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

By Patrick Wall on November 30, 2012 5:09pm 

PELHAM BAY PARK — In one lofty room of the historic Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Curious George clings to a pine tree.

In another corner of the 176-year-old Greek Revival manor, Eloise squeezes into a wooden sled, her tiny pug Weenie crouched in her lap.

And downstairs, Paddington Bear clutches his suitcase, ready for his latest adventure, as he stands beside a tree whose red ribbons and ornaments match his ruddy hat.

“These different children’s stories are the basis and inspiration for our trees,” said Jennifer Mehditash, a designer and blogger who decorated the Paddington tree.

Beginning Friday, eight classic children’s stories sparkle to life on eight Christmas trees in eight rooms of the mansion, each display designed by different artists.

In addition to Curious George, Eloise and Paddington, the Grinch, the Velveteen Rabbit, Babar the Elephant and Raggedy Andy all make appearances, along with the snow-stranded cardinal from the book, “Christmas Eve Blizzard.”

“The background idea for this,” said Ellen Bruzelius, the museum’s executive director, “is to promote kids reading books.”

To that end, the museum will donate the decorations and accompanying books from each of the trees to three different youth-focused nonprofits after the exhibition ends on Jan. 6, Bruzelius added.

The mansion in Pelham Bay Park was built around 1836, converted into a public museum in 1946 and is both a national and New York City landmark. It attracts about 11,000 visitors each year.

Many of the artists and designers from around the city who created the displays drew inspiration from their own early encounters with the storybook characters.

Mehditash, the Paddington decorator, played with the traveling bear as a child. She also lived for a time in London, where the Peruvian-born doll of the stories was discovered.

Bryant Keller, a Manhattan-based interior designer, included his own childhood Raggedy Andy doll in the room he decorated, along with a matching quilt and china that belonged to his grandmother.

The first play he ever saw? Raggedy Andy.

“I was three years old and it’s still seared into my mind,” Keller said.

Anoosh Donahue, an artist and designer who lives on City Island, made pages from an old Eloise book into ornaments for her room’s tree and sat dolls from the actual Plaza Hotel, Eloise’s stomping grounds, on a mantel.

She tried to summon the spirit of the mischievous six-year-old with her display, Donahue said.

“She’s very rambunctious,” the artist said. “She’s at that age where she doesn’t edit herself.”

The storybook Christmas trees will be on display from Nov. 30 to Jan. 6.

Through the exhibition, the museum will sell books and dolls related to the stories, along with other holiday gifts.

It will also host a series of holiday events, beginning Saturday at 10 a.m. with puppet shows, Santa photos, crafts and caroling during the annual Holiday Family Day. The cost is $20 or $15 for museum members and registration is required.

The museum is open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission costs $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students and is free for children under six.

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