Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan is in the midst of its annual Season of Light celebration, where multiple spaces in the facility shine for the holidays.
It's all about Santa Claus in the museum's Trelfa Gallery. Exhibits Manager Randy Shultz transformed the gallery into Santa's castle, complete with the jolly red guy's work bench, paint station, break room, office and even a grain-stocked barn for his reindeer.
The "castle" also features plenty of old-fashioned Santa figures from the museum's collections and on loan from area collectors Jan Hopkins, Sarah Winder and members of the Northeast Michigan Doll Club among them.
An antique sleigh in the center of the gallery with a full-size Santa figure at the helm and a Christmas tree decked out in old-fashioned bulb lights and Santa ornaments on loan from Founders President Barb Beem help to round of the room. So too does the artwork and Dear Santa letters supplied by Ella White Elementary School students from teachers Mary Quinn and Jenny Marceau's classrooms.
The multi-talents of Betsy Willis are on display in several areas of this year's Season of Light. Her photographs taken locally of the Northern Lights help form the backdrop for the elaborate Dickens Christmas Village set up by Dianne Sharp next to the museum's planetarium. Willis, along with her son, Kevin, digitally enhanced the photos to make them workable for the exhibit, that also features an eye-catching mural painted by volunteers Margie McConnell, Diane Kilroy and Dodie Lance.
The taxidermy art of Willis is showcased in a wildlife display just outside of Santa's castle and includes her mounts of coyotes, quail and a bear. Additionally, Willis painted a large and colorful mural of reindeer for Santa's barn.
"She was really instrumental in pulling these elements together," said Chris Witulski, interim director at the museum.
According to Witulski, a number of area schools already have planned field trips to the museum to see the Season of Light displays. Classes from Wilson, Sanborn, Ella White and Bingham Arts Academy will taking in the holiday-themed exhibits while visiting the museum over the next several weeks. Other school groups and organizations are welcome to visit as well.
"These special field trips include the planetarium show, 'The Royal Star,' seeing the Trees of Nations, doing holiday crafts, and learning about the history and traditions of Christmas," Witulski said.
The museum's Wilson Gallery has been devoted to a Holiday Treasures gift boutique. Museum staff member Amanda Dozier lined up a number of local artisans and crafters to supply their wares for the public to consider as Christmas gifts. As items sell, the artists will restock the boutique so that there is always a good turnover of items to browse and buy.
Gift items for sale range from pottery, purses and Amish-made furniture to jewelry, candy and tree decorations. Prices start as low as $1 or $2 for ornaments and notecards and go all the way up to higher-end items.
"People who come here are in for a real treat because the variety of items we have is different than what we've ever had before, such as the Amish furniture," said Dozier said. "We brought back people from last year who we knew were quite popular, then through other connections and word of mouth, we really were able to fill up the space."
About 25 different artists or crafters are represented in the Holiday Treasures gift boutique, including Jerry L. Smith of Millersburg, who makes unique boxes out of wood legally salvaged from shipwrecks and Vivian Hepburn of Ossineke who crafts one-of-a-kind embellished purses.
A "book nook" in the boutique also features Northeast Michigan history-related books by a number of local authors such as Robert Haltiner, Mike Cornelius, James L. Hopp and Brian Schultz.
Touches of Christmas also can be seen in the museum's Avenue of Shops and in the Gallery of Early Man where several Trees of Nations are set up and decorated.
The Season of Light will remain on exhibit through Dec. 30. For more information or to arrange a tour, contact the museum at 356-2202.