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Christmas at Kemper, Gallery of Trees underway at Kemper Center
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Christmas at Kemper, Gallery of Trees underway at Kemper Center

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Visions of sugar plums and Christmas trees to brighten the holiday season drew a steady stream of visitors to the Kemper Center Sunday.

The event was the annual Christmas at Kemper in the Durkee Mansion and the Gallery of Trees, relocated this year to Kemper because its typical home, the Anderson Arts Center, is being renovated.

In the mansion

At the Durkee Mansion, the opening day for Christmas at Kemper featured the theme of “Victorian Holiday Eve” based on the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

Hundreds of ornaments, decorations and designs were inspired by the Civil War era and late 1800s, according to Mary Wirch, a longtime volunteer of the event.

“Just about every line in that poem was a possibility for decorations, and when you look at the trees and throughout the mansion, you’ll see that,” she said.

Many of the ornaments depict children fast asleep in their beds dreaming of the gifts and goodies they hope St. Nicholas will deliver, including rocking horses, and other animals, instruments and sweets.

“They loved their horses, wagons and they even had exotic animals. The kids of that era loved wheeled things,” she said.

Stuffed animals of calico cloth and delicate floral prints and alphabet blocks could be seen throughout the decor, with the jolly elf’s bag spilling other toys onto a piano next to train cars expertly fashioned of boxes and soup cans.

“They loved their drums. It was (during) the Civil War,” she said.

Queen Anne’s lace and white and cream hydrangeas representing the driven snow adorned the trees along with red-ribboned lead crystal ornaments. Lighted garland featured dried oranges that resembled stain glass.

“This is the first time I’ve been here. I think it’s absolutely amazing,” said Carol Ojala of Kenosha. “I love it.”

Ojala was one of the more than 130 visitors who came to the mansion in the first hour it was open on Sunday.

Ceramic ducks and turkeys perched high above a cabinet in the pantry, which led to a richly decorated dining room readied for tea.

Constance Turner of Kenosha said she enjoys the history of the Durkee Mansion, noting that beneath the pantry itself was a stop along the Underground Railroad.

“Directly under us in the root cellar is where they would wait for ships to take them,” she said. “It’s very wonderful to be a part of that history.”

She said she enjoyed the Victorian-decorations on the trees.

“I love the trees. A true Victorian tree, you never see the tree. You enjoy all the ornaments,” she said.

Gallery of Trees

Turner also visited the Gallery of Trees, which had its opening night gala Saturday.

The gallery features 25 decorated trees and 15 wreathes, along with other holiday items, on two floors in Founder’s Hall and upstairs near the Chemistry Lab area.

The trees exhibited are part of a raffle and will be on display until next Sunday. Visitors can also vote for their favorite trees.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” said Kemper’s Executive Director Ed Kubicki. “We couldn’t do this without our staff and volunteers and our generous donors.

“Last night’s turnout was fantastic,” he said of the gala event that kicked off the Gallery, which was underwritten by Camosy, BMO and Snap-on.

Among the trees that attracted the most attention was the Barbie and Disney Princess-themed tree and castle that could fill an entire room. The dolls’ dresses were all handmade. Hiding in the corner was dragon.

The display certainly caught the eyes of many doll lovers.

“I think it’s very pretty,” said Darlene LeSage of Pleasant Pleasant Prairie. “Look at this; you’d have to add a room on your house.”

Her daughter, Nicole, admired the display as she recalled her Barbie doll collection as a child.

“I was gazing at it from all the way over there,” she said.

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