Winterlights exhibit brings old-fashioned Christmas traditions

Display provides glimpse into the Purcell-Cutts housing in 1915

Genesis Buckhalton

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  • This statue is one of three existing "Nils the Goose Boy" statues by Richard Bach. The statue was made out of wood and commissioned by the MIA.

  • The Purcell-Cutts House features an old and rare dictionary.

  • Anson Bailey Cutts Sr., the last owner of the house before the MIA, told the museum it could own the house as long as it kept this trophy case and two other objects in the house for display. The trophy case consists of golf trophies Cutts won throughout his life.

  • Architect William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie designed the Purcell-Cutts House in 1913. They included a little desk for studying for Purcell's children.

  • The MIA has kept the original lighting inside the Purcell-Cutts House.

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The Winterlights exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art offers insight into a traditional Christmas celebrated by an upper-middle class family: the Purcells.

Debra Hegstrom, a senior educator at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), said the Winterlights exhibit informs people about the custom of lights around the new year.

“Winterlights refers to the custom of placing or hanging lights in our homes and outdoors as a way to celebrate the fact that, after the solstice, the days will start getting longer,” Hegstrom said. “There are festivals all over the world that celebrate the triumph of light over darkness and lead us into the New Year.”

Hegstrom said the exhibit aims to show viewers how the Purcell family lived and how they celebrated the holidays.

“The home, built in the Prairie School style, was designed in 1913 by William Purcell and George Elmslie for Purcell and his family,” Hegstrom said. “The decorating of the Purcell-Cutts House was started in 1996 to show people what a Christmas celebration of 1915 would have looked like.”

Hegstrom said students should visit the exhibit to see a Victorian house considered very modern and progressive.

“The tour and the house highlight the gifts, toys, food, and social traditions of the period that the Purcells might have enjoyed,” Hegstrom said. “It was unusual to have electric lights on the Christmas tree (as the Purcells did) because they were very expensive. Many of the decorations are handmade paper ornaments.”

Junior Kimberlee Brandt said she usually does not like going to museums, but the Winterlights exhibit at the MIA seems intriguing.

“I usually find museums to be boring. I only go to museums for class trips and when I went to Germany last summer,” Brandt said. “I would go to the Winterlights exhibit because it looks unique.”

Brandt said she loves the holiday season because she can see all the pretty lights around town.

“I love putting up lights. I have some in my room but my parents don’t want to put up any around the rest of the house,” Brandt said. “Seeing lights on people’s houses makes me get into the Christmas spirit.”

The Winterlights exhibit closes Jan. 3. Admission is free at the museum, but tours of the house cost $5. Tours occur only on weekends and last 45 minutes.

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