by Barbara Sherf
Timing is a funny thing. Just ask Mt. Airy resident and longtime Wyck Historic House Board Member Ingrid E. Bogel, who had kept in touch with Jeff Groff, Executive Director at Wyck for 16 years before moving on to Winterthur Museum in Delaware in 2006. A blockbuster exhibition of the costumes of the popular Downton Abbey public television series is currently on display at Winterthur with accompanying lectures.
On Jan. 10 Bogel attended a meeting at Wyck where committee members were brainstorming on different fundraising ideas. She then met up for a long-planned lunch with Groff in Center City to catch up, and over lunch, Bogel asked Groff about doing a program for Wyck to help raise funds and friends.
“Wyck is still so dear to my heart that anything I could do to help them out, I am happy to do,” said Groff, who is excited to see some of his former colleagues, board members and volunteers. “It will be a mini-reunion of sorts.”
As a result, “Costumes of Downton Abbey: A Behind the Scenes Look,” a Power-Point presentation and discussion of the outfits worn on the TV show and now on display at Winterthur, will take place on Wednesday, April 9, 6:30 p.m., at the new Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse, 20 E. Mermaid Lane. None of the actual outfits will be present.
Wyck is a National Historic Landmark house, garden and farm at 6026 Germantown Ave. in Germantown which served as the ancestral home to the Wistar-Haines family for over nine generations. The 2.5-acre, 324-year-old site depicts traditional Quaker culture, so it is an ideal site for the lecture.
“We are so excited to have Jeff coming back to help Wyck in this way. And for him to take time out of what I am sure is a crazy schedule to do this really speaks to how much he cares about Wyck and the people involved with it,” said Wyck Executive Director Eileen Rojas. “Downton Abbey has established a new role for history in popular culture, and for Jeff, Winterthur and Wyck to be able to help people connect with it here is really exciting.”
Groff is excited about seeing the new meetinghouse, complete with a Skyspace installation by famed Quaker artist James Turrell. “I’m excited about seeing the new space there,” said Groff, who for more than 30 years has written and lectured about important sites on the Main Line.
Bogel served as President of the Wyck Board in 1990-91. “While I think fundraising is a part of this,” she said, “I also think it’s about ‘friend’ raising and attracting new people to learn more about Wyck. Many people don’t know that Wyck has an amazing textile collection in addition to the historic house and gardens. We hope to raise a little bit of money for Wyck, but also to get people to think about visiting the site and capturing some of their family history.”
Groff said the record-breaking Downton Abbey exhibition at Winterthur came about through an interesting series of connections. “Our Director here is a huge Downton Abbey fan, and he got to wondering whether we could do some sort of exhibition to tie into Downton. Our 2,000-acre property is reminiscent of a great English country house with 175 rooms that at one time housed hundreds of staff. The parallels were strong. We had connections with the costume designer company, CosProp, and our Director of Museum Affairs, Tom Savage, knows some groups in England and was able to connect with Carnival Productions through a good friend, and then Julian Fellowes, the creator of the series. That opened the door for us to get photographs enlarged and video clips and most importantly the ability to use the copyrighted name,” said Groff, noting that it all happened in a seven-month time period, which is “a fraction of the time for a major exhibition like this.”
He said the response has been a bit overwhelming. “It’s been beyond our wildest dreams. We have tried to make it a theatrical appearance with lighting and such instead of just costumes on mannequins. We have already had over 25,000 tickets reserved, and attendance is up 350 percent. Our lectures are selling out of 300 seats, so I would say it’s definitely been a big success.”
Kristin Hagar, Wyck Development Manager, hopes the program will produce far-reaching effects.
“We’re trying to think of fun ways to broaden our support base and reach our budget goals for the year, and this event contributes to those ends,” she said, “and like Downton and Winterthur, Wyck also was the ancestral home of a fascinating, influential, sometimes quirky family. Now it’s a country house functioning as a vital contemporary resource with educational programs.”
The program is $30 for Wyck members and $35 for non-members. A reception with refreshments will take place before the Winterthur talk. Advance registration is required at 215-848-1690 or www.wyck.org/programs. Wyck re-opened on April 2, with walk-in tours between 1 and 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Winterthur Museum’s “Costumes of Downton Abbey” exhibit runs through January, 2015. More information at www.winterthur.org.
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