STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Many know the Brandywine River Museum of Art features a collection of American works, but did you know it also houses critters? That’s right. A variety of critters – from bunnies to squirrels, to owls, dogs, cats, bears, birds, and more – call the museum home. Some do so only for a short time. Then, they’re sold to new loving owners during the annual Critter Sale.
About 150 volunteers have made about 10,000 critters this year – from Christmas tree ornaments to large, tabletop decorations. They’ll be sold on Dec. 5 and 6 to raise funds for the Museum Volunteers’ Art Purchase Fund, and art education and programming.
It’s part of “A Brandywine Christmas,” the museum’s annual holiday celebration. That event, from Nov. 27 through Jan. 7, features an O-gauge model train display running on nearly 2,000 feet of track, a collection of rare antique dolls dressed in period clothing, performances by area musicians and local school choirs, family programs, and more.
Anne DeNenno, of West Chester, is a critter creator, one of the many who collected natural materials from the woods and other places to make handmade decorations. She even made replicas of hot air balloons out of eggs from her daughter Grace’s chickens.
“The chickens laid green eggs. Some had a bluish or greenish tint. I thought they would look beautiful with flowers on them,” she said in a telephone interview.
DeNenno also said she’s delighted “to have something we make be invited into someone’s home and be hung on their Christmas trees.”
She likes how unique the creations turn out to be.
“Everybody’s one of a kind and so are the critters,” she said. “Nature doesn’t make things the same.”
One of her favorite things is going to the sale and meeting people who admire or buy the creations.
“I love to see how people respond,” she said.
Donna Gormel, the museum’s director of volunteers and events, likes that, too, because others will appreciate the work the volunteers put into making the critters as much as she does.
“It’s a lot of work and the folks making critters have a great time,” she said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t get any better than when people are feeling good about what they’re doing.”
Gormel supervises the critter creation, the decorating of the museum, the staging of the trees, and other decorative touches for the holidays. The trees are real, Fraser or Douglas firs, and decorated only with natural materials.
“It fits with the mission of the museum,” she said. “It’s in keeping with our environmental concern and also our creative side.”
This is the 30th year for the sale, which began in 1985, she said.
“We decorated the White House Christmas tree in 1984 during the Reagan administration. We were asked to make 3,000 critters for that tree,” she said. “Once the holidays were over, we got the ornaments back and wondered what to do with them. So we advertised to members and sold them. That was our first official Critter Sale.”
Gormel is amazed by what she sees when she looks around the museum, at the critters for sale and at those that remain part of the museum’s holiday decoration critter collection.
“When I look at the trees, I think the creativity and imagination that flows from the makers is just incredible,” she said. “The artistry – they’re critter artists, working with natural materials and creating little works of art.”
There are critters for sale for as little as $5 and a few pieces for about $200. Most are priced between $10 and $20, she said. The art and the generosity of time and creativity are priceless, though.
“It’s a labor of love,” she said. “It’s rewarding for all of us involved in it.”