To welcome the holiday season and continue a tradition that began last year, Raynham Hall Museum opened a special holiday exhibit last week that will last until Twelfth Night, Jan. 5, 2016. The new exhibit, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, is one that will spark the feelings of magic and excitement of the season in viewers both young and old, as the museum has gathered a variety of antique toys—most of them donated by community members—to display for the next few weeks.
“It’s the second year that we’ve had a Christmas show that revolves around toys or miniatures,” said Alex Sutherland. “What I’ve tried to do is assemble various kinds of children’s toys, mostly antique, to continue a Christmas theme. ”
She said that she and curator Helen Bonebrake went to friends they knew in the community who collected dolls, toy soldiers and dollhouses which could be added to the museum’s collection for the show.
“It just seemed like a natural assemblage for this year for the Christmas show,” she said.
The toys on display vary from items from the 20th century, such as Godzilla and troll dolls from the 1970s to penny dolls from the 1800s.
“Some of them are really valuable and some of them are basically worthless, but loved,” said Sutherland. “We have Steiff animals from Germany that are very collectible.”
Each room in the museum has a different theme or display; attendees are greeted by gorgeous dollhouses upon entering the museum. One room displays a collection of doll chairs and child chairs representing two centuries. Sutherland said they added some of the Steiff stuffed animals to the chairs to make it more fun.
One of the rooms is the toy soldier room, with several displays of miniature battles. Michael Goudket handmade a collection of toy soldiers; the display depicts an imaginary battle in Oyster Bay.
Overall, this seasonal display is meant to be fun, not necessarily representing a historically accurate theme, as the toys are largely a conglomerate of items that work together for the exhibit. Sutherland said the purpose is to attract children.
“They’re not allowed to touch anything, but at least they can see that museums have fun things in them,” said Sutherland.
The exhibit is short—only five weeks—but took a lot of work. Every individual item had to be packed in acid-free paper, then unwrapped and put carefully on display. And when it’s all over, every item must be re-wrapped for storage and/or transport, including every tiny item in the dollhouses.
One of the highlights, the dollhouse owned by Suzanne Dillenbeck, was arranged by Bonebrake.
“I just love that it is a native Long Island dollhouse,” she said.
The exact age of the dollhouse is not known, as Dillenbeck said she got it from a friend in Cold Spring Harbor more than 20 years ago who was going to get rid of it.
“I’m a dollhouse person and just loved it,” said Dillenbeck, who had a table made for it and keeps it in her art studio.
She said her grandchildren used to play with it and she has added to the furniture collection over the years. Bonebrake, a close family friend, wallpapered the tiny house about 20 years ago and also added new curtains.
“It’s a mishmash of furniture, it’s very eclectic, but we made it work,” said Bonebrake. “A story needed to be built around the rooms and furniture and I think it makes sense.”
Raynham Hall Museum is at 20 West Main St. in Oyster Bay. The exhibit can be seen during museum hours, Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.