Village shared in the Christmas spirit at Allison-Antrim Museum

PAT FRIDGEN
Paul and Pat Russell examine the arrangement of their Department 56 Christmas village, on display at Allison-Antrim Museum through Dec. 20. They were used to seeing it on the living room floor.

Even Paul Russell was impressed with his display.

Russell, 89, and his wife Pat, 72, first saw their collection of Department 56 New England Village Christmas houses featured at the Allison-Antrim Museum last Thursday. He had intended to help museum assistant David Stratton set up the 75 houses and 300 accessories at the beginning of the month, but health reasons prevented him from attending. Perhaps that was just as well.

Stratton, Dan Angotti and David Hippensteel spent 12 hours each setting up the detailed, handpainted pieces on a table that spans the width of the South Exhibit Bay of the barn. The display opened to the public Dec. 1 and runs through Dec. 20.

The village scene, which includes houses, churches, businesses, mountains, ponds, boats, trains and people in snow, is presented in a darkened room so that the lights in the buildings are welcoming. Music from the Department 56 website permeates the air.

"Oh my goodness. Oh my word," said Pat upon entry.

"There she is," said Russell of the collection. "He did a very good job. I'm tickled with it."

They spotted a lighthouse. "That started all the trouble," Pat said.

In 1987 she gave it to her husband, who was hard to shop for at Christmas. They added pieces until 2006, picking up accessories throughout the year on their travels. The growing village was erected on the floor.

"It was 'Honey, I Shrunk the Living Room' for Christmas," recalled Pat. "We took furniture out and set it up next to a narrow Christmas tree."

Russell would spend a week to 10 days at their Maugansville, Md. home setting the houses, and his wife followed with the finishing touches.

The couple arrived, courtesy of Christ Reformed Church on Franklin Street in Hagerstown. Elder Art Burgan drove the wheelchair-accessible bus for the special visit. He also opened his eyes wide.

"I hadn't seen this before. I didn't expect it to be this big."

The museum, located at 365 S. Ridge Ave., is open Monday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m.