At first glance the annual Festival of Trees at Pearl S. Buck’s home is not unlike other Bucks County holiday outings. It is an occasion to tour garnished Christmas trees stationed throughout a 19th-century farmhouse in a bucolic setting.
But as you look beyond the glow of the decorations, you find that many of the decorators have a vision to improve lives and to serve the under served. Pair that with Pearl S. Buck International’s mission to bridge cultures and change lives and the holiday outing proves to be illuminating in more ways than one.
Most curators of a National Historic Landmark museum would have an allergic reaction to the idea of historic artifacts intersecting with tinsel and bows but not Samantha Freise, who joined PSBI last spring. “It’s not every day that you walk through a museum space and see trees decorated by the community to further a foundation’s goals but it is exactly the kind of thing Pearl would want,” she said, “It is worth the risk.”
To help facilitate this atypical combination is the international’s volunteer association. The volunteers help guide the decorators to steer clear of certain tools when putting up the displays namely, tape, glue guns, glitter and nails. “I could not have done it without their help,” Samantha said of the volunteers who also designed the Peace Tree located in Pearl’s bedroom. It features origami doves and white paper garland onto which John Lennon lyrics have been handwritten.
Curating the 44th Festival of Trees might be new for Samantha but she is not new to preserving historical spaces. After earning a degree in museum education and public history, she was a park ranger at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where she was required to wear many hats. She said, “I was a scholar, interpreter, educator and people wrangler.” You might say her appetite for protecting artifacts runs in the family. Her grandmother was director of Friends of Historic Boonville in Missouri. “I liked stopping by her office, which was in a historic jail,” she said.
Featured as a new exhibition this year are original illustrations that were published in Pearl’s 1957 children’s book “Christmas Miniature.” The drawings were created by Anna Marie Magagna who eventually became the high-end store Henri Bendel’s exclusive fashion illustrator. “It is like an exhibit within an exhibit and very popular with younger visitors,” said Samantha. “The grandfather clock in the dining room is shown in the book.”
From the Music Works4 Kids’ tree in the small library by Pearl’s collection of Charles Dickens novels to the Earth Wish Angels’ tree near the typewriter on which she wrote “The Good Earth,” the displays are a call back to Pearl’s literary life and her commitment to human service. Pick up some literature and scan the QR codes related to causes you connect with or maybe learn about a new one.
Looking forward to 2023, PSBI is having an event that celebrates the Lunar New Year on Jan 22. There will be tours, craft making and Lunar New Year education. “2023 is the Year of the Rabbit,” said Samantha, “Many cultures celebrate the Lunar New Year including many of the children the foundation serves today.”
Festival of Trees runs through Jan. 9. Reservations and ticket purchase required at 215-249-0100 x110. The free Holiday Community Night is 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 15.
Lee Davis lives in Plumstead Township.