I have an embarrassing confession: Having lived here for five years before, last year was the first time I attended a ‘Christmas in the Park’ celebration, featuring the spectacular Tiffany windows from the Morse Museum.
I feel a bit like punishment is in order. Admittedly, I was really there that night because I saw all the action during the day, working just across the street. I didn’t have a clue what I was missing. You hear things, not all accurate, and whatever you imagined is rarely what you come to find. And when something is in your own backyard you may appreciate that fact yet never actually enjoy it — at least as often as others might assume you would.
When we lived in Fort Lauderdale, my life partner, Jim, always said he loved living near the beach. How often did he go? Rarely. When we traveled to Australia in 1998, I remember being in Cairns just before we headed into the Outback to see Uluru, more commonly known as Ayers Rock. He asked a local resident in Cairns what it was like, and they said they’d never been there. He was shocked. They then asked him: Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? He admitted he had not.
The exotic and alluring is often not what we associate with anything close, or easily accessible. That is surely not, and should not be the case with these amazing windows.
I crossed Park Avenue that night last year as the music played, attendees shuffled in an orderly way to view the displayed windows, which so beautifully glowed to life, illuminated by lights from behind. They were breathtaking.
From the first column I wrote for The Observer back in May, I knew I would be writing about this event, hoping to offer a unique narration of the day’s preparations, how it is setting up these beautiful 500 pound windows — which date from 1890s to 1907 — for outdoor display, and I’m thrilled to say I will be doing that all day this Thursday, to appear here next week. As I’ve gotten closer, however, I’ve also developed some apprehension. This is an amazing event, a truly world-class event, held right here in my adopted hometown. What if my usual meandering word deluge is less than this deserves? Wondering that has gotten me even more excited.
Sunday evening I was at a grand opening for Nature in Beauty in the Hidden Garden Courtyard and asked longtime Winter Park resident and business owner Douglas Marvaldi his thoughts on the event. I’d heard about a restaurant, La Belle Verrierre, located where Williams-Sonoma is now, and Douglas began by noting it was windows from the Morse Museum that added the eye-catching color and design for which it was often known. “You’d walk in and see these amazing pieces of glass,” he said. “It was really a showcase for their windows and it was very well done.”
I asked what he thought about the Christmas event – which he’s attended personally five or six times – and the Morse itself adds to the community and he said, “I think it adds everything to Winter Park. This has become a – just think about the Tiffany collection, the biggest, the largest collection in the world, people come from all over the world to see it. It’s amazing wherever you go, wherever you travel, I’ll meet people and they’ll say where are you from and they’ll say ‘oh yeah, that’s where you’ve got that museum with the Tiffany windows, the Tiffany glass.’”
I met Catherine Hinman, the Morse Museum’s director of public affairs and publications, last year at a Park Avenue Sip event. I spoke to her recently about ‘Christmas in the Park.’ She apologized several times for being so close to the project, assuming people know as much about it as she does. With the Morse for 13 years, there’s still a thrill evident in her voice as she speaks of the event, and the Museum’s amazing collection.
I ask about the greatest misconception associated with the event and she says many think this is a city event, when it is completely funded by the Morse Museum. She describes it as their gift each year to the community of which they are part. After that night, she says, “Four of the memorial windows go to retirement homes in Winter Park and to Winter Park hospital for the month of December as an extension of the event to people who cannot attend. After that they are back in the vaults until the next year.”
I’m excited to see behind the scenes, all that goes into its setup, and ask what’s involved. “It takes the whole staff of the Museum pretty much, and more. Just about everyone is involved. On the day of the event, we have six men installing windows, guards at every window, docents at every window (in two shifts), the sound and light team, the Bach Festival folks (150 there!), there is the mounted patrol from Orange County, the Winter Park Police Explorers, the off duty police we hire to manage the road closures,” she explained.
Catherine – who actually shares the name of one of the women to whom one of the windows was produced in honor of, Katherine Hinman – said the museum estimates usual attendance at around 3,000 each year.
“It unites the entire community under the Central Florida stars for a shared tradition that provides, just as the Museum does, an immersion in beauty and a respite from the commercialism of the holiday,” she says. “I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that such a unique celebration of art and music could take place. It is a gift from the Morse, an idea that Hugh and Jeannette McKean conceived because they believed in making art accessible and that some people would not visit a museum. It is as much a part of their legacy as is the Museum.”
Local Luv'n Local
Marvaldi Hair & Makeup Salon, as well as its new store Nature In Beauty — both in the Hidden Garden Courtyard— display and sell recycled fused glass art by local artist Dr. Saulius Jankauskas. He’s a plastic surgeon by trade, but since 1996 has also been doing some cosmetic glass reconstruction. Marvaldi has displayed Jankauskas’ work for seven years, just as long as they’ve been located in The Hidden Garden. Jankauskas’ works are also now on display as part of the new “Diversity” show in the CityArts Factory in Orlando.
Clyde Moore operates local sites ILUVWinterPark.com, ILUVParkAve.com and LUVMyRate.com, and aims to help local businesses promote themselves for free and help save them money, having some fun along the way. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to ILuv Winter Park on Facebook or Twitter.