To visitors during the holiday season, it may seem like there is a decorated Christmas tree in every corner of the house museum. Meticulously decorated trees everywhere! But to the curators, each tree is representative and essential to Robbins Hunter Museum theory, practice and mission. In other words, there is method behind the “Christmas tree madness” at RHM.
The mission of the holidays here is to interpret the life and times of the occupants of the house, says Dr. Rebecca Dungan, former program director and board member who continues to love doing Christmas at the museum.
Two mission-driven trees in particular, the 1950s tree in the Octagon Room and the 1870s tree in the Parlor stay essentially the same each year, Dungan says. “They are purposefully designed to further our tour goal for visitors to ‘step into the past to experience the way a family lived.”
The Octagon Room tree interprets the life and times of Robbins Hunter after the war and is also a tree for learning the effects of World War II on the American Christmas tree. The Parlor Room tree is an interpretation of the way families celebrated Christmas in the 1870s and offers an opportunity to gain insights into the custom of the times, she added.
“Putting up these trees each year is the equivalent of our practice of putting netting over the mirrors, slipcovers on the furniture, and a croquet set in the ladies parlor in the summer months,” she said.
Then there are trees that are exhibits and they will change over time. The Suffragette tree and the World War I tree this year are designed to inform and, in these cases, honor. The Suffragette Tree that sits in the Ladies’ Parlor, speaks to one of the interpretive themes of the parlor, that “women made a difference.” The WWI tree commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of the war and the sacrifices of Licking Countians. On the tree are the names of the 82 Licking County men who died from disease or on the battle field, she said. A smaller tree honors the Denison men who did not return. “These trees offer a moving participatory experience for our visitors,” Dungan said.
Another tree with programming potential is the dried botanical tree. “This tree is unique in that we are just beginning to recognize its potential to further our mission by bringing the gardens into the house,” she said. Programming is possible, for example, when we explore how to properly dry flowers and choose which varieties are best for this purpose. And best of all, she says, when we experience how to connect the interior and exterior by using the museum’s garden botanicals on this tree, thus also placing it in the category of exhibit trees.
The Beaded Styrofoam Ornament tree is also an exhibit, representing America’s fascination with the elegance and perceived sophistication and glamor of the 1960s. “Housewives created millions of these ornaments to bring elegance into their homes, Dungan said. “Visitors enjoy and identify with this tree,” she added.
All aspects of house decoration during the holiday season is mission and goal driven, Dungan maintains, and a result of careful consideration of how best to immerse visitors in the tour experience.
“The intense research and the hours spent to insure the accuracy and beauty of these trees are a source of pride, a notable example of best practice and the careful work of interested volunteers.”
Yes, this wonderful madness is real!