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WD/JAR SET 10/29 #511753

HOUSTON, TEX. — The opening of the first chocolate mill in America and the first ice cream commercially available in New York City will be commemorated in two of the rooms decorated for Yuletide 2002 at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, the American Decorative Arts C enter of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Each year, eight first-floor rooms at Bayou Bend are decorated to represent early American holiday traditions. The theme of this year’s event is “Traditions Old and New.”

In addition to the chocolate and ice cream parties, other room scenes will represent a celebration of the birth of a child to a privileged Eighteenth Century Boston family, Ima Hogg’s 1930s Christmas season card party, a ball given in Philadelphia during the Revolution, a supper party in Boston for those who attended Handel’s Messiah in the early 1800s, and a Hanukkah celebration in Charleston, S.C., in the 1850s.

Philadelphia Hall will reflect the Colonial Revival style of 1930 to 1950 with its lavish use of greenery and fruit. Wherever possible, room arrangements are based on primary documents, period engravings and other sources of visual imagery. All of the room recreations include faux food and drink, appropriate to the occasion, created by Bayou Bend volunteers.

A Candlelight Open House is scheduled on three consecutive Fridays: November 29, December 6 and 13. The open house events, which are enhanced by period music, are among many holiday celebrations scheduled at Bayou Bend through December 31. Also planned are Yuletide open house tours, Yuletide audio tours and a Yuletide family day.

During the candlelight and Yuletide open house tours, docents in each room provide information about the holiday settings and talk about the customs of the times that inspired “Traditions Old and New.” The rooms showcase seasonal traditions from three centuries against the backdrop of Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century American furniture, paintings, ceramics and silver that comprise the Bayou Bend Collection.

The Massachusetts Room is the setting for “The Baker Chocolate Party,” an event that might have been given in honor of Dr James Baker, the investor in the first chocolate mill in America, which opened in Dorchester, Mass., in 1765. The mill used waterpower to grind the cacao beans. Guests at the Baker party see the entire chocolate-making process, starting with raw beans. Set out on the table are the cakes of chocolate that are grated and then combined with hot water and sugar in a special chocolate pot. Beside the pot are the molinets or swizzle sticks used to beat the chocolate to a froth.

A holiday ice cream party that might have taken place in New York City around 1785, the first year that ice cream was commercially available there, is recreated in “Ice Cream – The New Treat” in the Dining Room. At this party, the cold treat is served from ice cream pails and sipped from handled cups or frozen in molds and set out on plates. While some fruit flavors were popular during the late Eighteenth Century, some of the best-known flavors were brown bread and Parmesan cheese.

In the Murphy Room, a festive dinner is set for “The Sewall Newborn Party.” The display was suggested by a diary entry by Judge Samuel Sewall of Boston, who recorded in January 1702 that his wife, who had recently given birth to their 14th child, honored the midwife and 17 other women with a dinner. On the menu were “Boil’d Pork, Beef, Fowls; very good Rost-Beef, Turkey-Pye, Tarts.” The dinner adorns a table set along the length of the room. A wicker cradle indicates the new baby girl was present at the celebration.

“A Philadelphia Ball” given during the American Revolution is recreated in the Drawing Room. Teenager Nancy Shippen recorded balls in her journal and further information has been gleaned from the letters of the Marquis de Chastellux, who was traveling in America during that time. Balls customarily began at 7 pm and continued past 2 am. Between 11 and midnight, guests would break for refreshments in the supper room, where a large repast, with an emphasis on desserts, would be served.

The Chillman Parlor is set for “A Christmas Concert Supper Party in Boston” that might have been given for the performers and the Handel and Haydn Society, which gave its first concert — selections from Handel’s Messiah — on Christmas night in 1815. The singers, 90 men and 10 women, performed to an audience of nearly 1,000 at that event. A range of food — from sliced ham to cookie pyramids — is available at this party, and a rare ceramic bust of Handel overlooks the proceedings from the mantel.

An 1850s Hanukkah celebration in Charleston, S.C., is recreated in the Belter Parlor, with its elaborate suite of rococo revival furniture. By this period, Charleston had a thriving and prominent Jewish population and was a leader in the Reform Judaism movement. In this display, “Hanukkah in Charleston,” the eight-day festival of lights is celebrated with traditional Hanukkah foods — potato latkes and jelly-filled doughnuts — and the special candelabrum, a reproduction of a Nineteenth Century menorah, stands in the window.

“The Ima Hogg Library,” recreated in the Pine Room, appears as it would have in the 1930s when Hogg used it for festive card parties during the Christmas season. The design of the paneling in the Pine Room was adapted from an Eighteenth Century house in Newport, R.I., but the rest of the furnishings are special for this setting. A Christmas tree stands in the bay window of the room, framed by her collection of colored glass.

Philadelphia Hall is lavishly decorated with greenery and fruit, including a pyramid of fruit on the newel post for “A Colonial Revival Christmas in Houston.” The Colonial Revival style was popular from 1930 to 1950. Hogg’s crèche is on display as is a huge Christmas tree decorated with ornaments given to the MFAH by Houston philanthropist Audrey Jones Beck.

On Sunday, December 15, from 1 to 5 pm, the first floor of the house and the grounds are open for a free Yuletide family day. Visitors can tour the decorated rooms and enjoy holiday activities and entertainment. Children can create a holiday ornament and local community groups will provide holiday music.

For information, 713-639-7750 or www.mfah.org.

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