January may bring colder weather (we think!) and fewer options in the Historic Area, but there’s plenty to fill your schedule at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. Here are a few suggestions.
See It Before It’s Gone
If you’re looking to hold on to that Christmas spirit a wee bit longer, don’t miss A Carolina Christmas, with an actual room decorated for a classic 19th-century Christmas. The Carolina Room is the parlor from a home built around 1830 on Col. Alexander Shaw’s Scotland County, N.C. plantation, and it’s decked out for the holidays with a Victorian Christmas tree, stockings, and period toys—including a seven-foot long wooden train.
The room, most notable for its exquisitely painted surfaces (including a New York scene above the mantel) is a fixture at the folk art museum, but this is the first time it has been decorated for Christmas. It closes Jan. 3.
Also closing Jan. 3 is A Celebration of American Quilts, with diverse styles and origins. There’s even a Hawaiian quilt!
Visit an Old Friend
It’s the time of year when you realize how long it’s been since you spoke to old friends and distant relatives. Some of my old friends are just hanging around the museum, so maybe it’s time for a visit.
Personally, I never tire of Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of Washington, which occupies an appropriately commanding position at the top of the main staircase. Standing amidst fellow soldiers, a cannon, and battle flags, he’s as inscrutable as ever, which just keeps me looking over and over again.
Discover Unexpected Connections
My newest favorite is Silver from Mine to Masterpiece. Why? Because I went in to the exhibit thinking I didn’t really care about silver. Then, aided by excellent captions—and some expert guidance—I learned about how silver is more than a pretty bowl or pitcher.
Silver was a significant part of the European contest to gain power through American treasure. That’s what makes it so fascinating to see an actual ingot, or a chunk of silver recovered from a Spanish shipwreck. This is the stuff people were killed or enslaved for.
And even if you’re indifferent to the 21-piece epergne or King William III’s chandelier, you might appreciate seeing Paul Revere’s anvil or the ingenious design of many pieces.
Take a Tour and Get Smarter
You’ll appreciate the collections even more with a guide. There are daily Introduction to Folk Art and Decorative Arts Highlights tours, but there are others that may suit a particular interest. All are free with museum admission.
Thursday mornings feature Colonial Williamsburg Collects, where you can learn the stories behind how and why particular objects in the museum were acquired.
The By George! tour every Friday morning features objects owned by or connected to our first president. It’s biography through art.
Check the calendar for all the available tours, or if you have a special interest, create your own tour. Pick a theme and run with it. You say you love liberty? Well, why not see how many places you can find it represented: perhaps on a weather vane, a coin, or in the detail of a painting. And where is it absent? In the “No Stamp Act” teapot? Sure But also in the faces of the anonymous enslaved people represented in many places.
Get Some Decoration Inspiration
Thinking about redecorating in the new year? Maybe you’d like to find a new old look. Even if you’re just window shopping, there are great opportunities to ponder personal taste in the museum’s extensive furniture collections.
Do you prefer practical or stylish? Simple or ornate? Northern or Southern? It’s all there for your consideration. The ongoing exhibit American Furniture: From Virginia to Vermont presents interesting opportunities for regional comparisons, and there’s more in A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South.
In January the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours until 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are available online or at the gift shop downstairs.