Portland’s many-splendored Victoria Mansion is in some sense a natural phenomenon, like a lush garden or the capricious Maine weather. Even those who work in it and experience it daily are continually discovering something new in “America’s premiere museum of pre-Civil War opulence.”

That truth is perhaps most apparent during the holiday season, when the landmark public museum celebrates its Christmas at Victoria Mansion.

For the event, which this year opened the day after Thanksgiving and continues daily through Jan. 3, a number of Southern Maine’s finest designers donate hundreds of hours, bushels and crates of materials, and a high degree of professional artistry, to realize their visions for these rooms and spaces.

Not only is the Mansion’s interior transformed, its imposing Italian Villa-style exterior is ornamented, with lighting by John Griffin of Christmas Light Pros. Griffin also decks the brownstone with the extensive greenery annually donated by Broadway Gardens in South Portland.

This is the 32nd season for Christmas at Victoria Mansion, said marketing and public relations specialist Gregory Sundik, explaining that the tradition began more than 50 years ago with holiday teas hosted by benefactors – the ladies of the Victoria Society of Maine Women – and gradually expanded. The Mansion’s holiday calendar now also includes a Christmas Gala, a Night of the Nutcracker with Portland Ballet, a literary evening, and more.

Just as each Christmas the event has a theme – this season, Early Victorian – so each year, most designers are returnees to what they regard as a labor of love. Dan Hatt, Don Chinouard and Marcedas Hatt note in the program that this is their 13th anniversary here: “We have the honor of decorating perhaps the most dramatic area in the mansion, the grand stair hall.

“Its massive three-story expanse presents quite a challenge and requires a tremendous amount of product. For example, we have used over 100 feet of garland, 250 yards of ribbon, hundreds of shiny ornaments, more than 2,000 white lights and dozens of stunning silk floral stems to create an opulence that befits its grandeur.”

Ashli Campell, of Blue Elephant Events and Catering in Saco, comments that the company “‪has had the pleasure of decorating a room in Victoria Mansion for the past nine years, and has spent the past three years in the luxurious library. This year was especially fun … We (designers Reuben Bell and Fausto Pifferrer) included an antique sled that holds goodies beneath a life-sized Santa Claus, who is wearing traditional brown instead of the now-ubiquitous red, and reflects the early depictions of his character.‬

“We included cardinals, a long-standing staple in Christmas decor because of their appearance beginning in wintertime, and a “goosefeather” tree, which was the first artificial Victorian Christmas tree and made with sticks or metal covered in feathers that were dyed green.

“It was nice to go back in history for a bit of old Christmas cheer!”

Other artists again sharing that spirit this year include Gail Diamon, Jason Parent, Hilary Rodriguez and Shannon Hanley of Dodge the Florist in Portland, who rendered the magnificent dining room, “a feast for your imagination of Christmas dinner”;

• Melissa McNaboe, of Village Florist & Company in Yarmouth, brought her love of Nature to the Green Bedroom:  “Floral and fauna delights bedeck this master bedroom in hues of natural greens, creams, and browns, all to create a peaceful sanctuary ready for sweet dreams.”

• Dwayne Harris, Blossoms of Windham in Windham, who used birch and chickadee to “create a simple, natural family Christmas for the Morses. A Maine woods Christmas …” in the sitting room;

• Dan Gifford of Portland, whose tabletop feather tree in the Red Bedroom dates to 1845, and reflects a forest conservation effort in Germany, as he noted;

• Dan Kennedy and John Sundling of Harmon’s & Barton’s in Portland and Westbrook, who in seeing the Parlor afresh this year sought “to be respectful of the historic fabric of the place and help the exquisite details shine more this winter.”

While the Victorians are better known for being staid than sensuous, the Mansion’s decor belies that stereotype (be sure to admire the restored Turkish smoking room) at Christmas, most of all.

Designer Hatt’s welcome perfectly captures that exuberance:

“We hope that your entrance into the Mansion is a jaw-dropping experience that sets the tone for your Christmas tour and hopefully, kick-starts your holiday spirit.”

 

For information on the Mansion’s history, events, membership opportunities, and more, please visit http://www.victoriamansion.org.

 

Photos by Melanie Sochan, staff photographer.