Note: this exhibition has closed.
Spend an afternoon upstairs and downstairs in Downton Abbey, thanks to the gorgeous exhibits put together by Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Delaware. Edith’s wedding gown in all its sparkling detail is there. Matthew asks Mary to marry him in the swirling snow on a big screen TV — and there in front of them are the costumes the actors wore in the scene. Period hats, coats and gloves. Clothes for walking, hunting and cricket. Mrs. Patmore’s apron and Mrs. Hughes’ black dress with the keys hung from the belt. Suits worn by Matthew (beautiful Matthew!) and wily Thomas’s evening clothes. All the rich fabrics, sparkling detail and beautiful stitching of clothes worn by Cora, Violet, the Dowager Countess, Mary and Rose.
They are set among flat screen TVs playing scenes from the popular PBS series, with the theme music welcoming visitors in. Bits of dialogue are printed behind the displays, including the always amusing Violet (who usually doesn’t seem amused when she speaks.)
Because this is a country estate, Winterthur has interspersed pieces from its own collection comparing life in an American country home with its British counterpart. There are definitely similarities — and differences. Admission to the exhibit — which runs through January 4, 2015 — is part of the regular admission. Buy your tickets online and decide what time you want to go into the exhbit. You can choose a two-hour window. When you arrive at Winterthur, you decide on the time for an introductory tour of the house and you can walk the gardens, take a half-hour tram tour of the grounds and spend hours in the gift shops as well. Have lunch or tea in the cafe at the visitor center or plan to have tea at a nearby restaurant. (More on that later.)
Make sure you have enough time to do everything. I didn’t, I’m disappointed to say. The costumes exhibit takes a good 90 minutes, no matter what they tell you at the visitor center — and even then I felt rushed. But I missed the house tour because you can’t come back to the exhibit once you leave. I’ve been on the house tour before but Winterthur is so astounding it’s always worth seeing again.
Bring your walking shoes so you can wander through the wooded paths, see the Enchanted Garden (a children’s delight) and enjoy whatever’s in bloom. The tram tour is a good introduction. Catch it at the visitor center on your way to the Downton exhibit — or afterwards. It’ll stop at the Enchanted Garden, if you like.
Dining at the cafe at Winterthur is certainly convenient and lovely enough. But if I were you, I’d head a couple miles up Kennett Pike to the beautifully furnished rooms of Buckley’s Tavern for afternoon tea. Tea sandwiches, delicious little sweets and tea (or something stronger if you like) made this a wonderful ending to our visit to Downton Abbey. Wilmington has plenty of other delicious offerings, as well.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman
I wrote about Wilmington just before the exhibit opened in January.