LITCHFIELD — It’s not often Santa Claus is the warm-up act, but he and Mrs. Claus filled that role Saturday at White Memorial Conservation Center.
After welcoming children and their families into the cozy Mott-Van Winkle Classroom for a meet and greet near a Christmas tree, Santa and his partner moved on to make a brief appearance at the center’s cozy Carriage House.
There, as a soft mist fell on a decidedly un-Christmas-like afternoon, artist and puppeteer Robin McCahill of Thomaston delighted young and old alike with her performance of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” a tale of friends lost and found, visits to distant lands, travels through changing seasons, and encounters with strange and exotic characters. McCahill told the story with a troupe of hand-felted marionettes.
While the weather outside was cold and wet, the smiles and amazed looks on the faces of the children and adults weren’t dampened as they watched the show, which McCahill has reprised many times during her 35-year career as a puppeteer.
“It’s a wonderful tale,” said McCahill prior to her performance. “But I take a few liberties with it. In all, there are eight characters in the play and I try and create a little magic for the kids. What I like most about the play is that it is interactive with the audience.”
It was a busy afternoon at White Memorial Conservation Center. In addition to Santa and Mrs. Claus and the puppet show, the center’s museum held an open house, and visitors were able to shop for stocking stuffers from one-of-a-kind Connecticut-made gifts.
All that was needed to get into the puppet show was a donation of warm socks, mittens, gloves, or hats of any size or color and a non-perishable food item for the pantry at FISH/Friends in Service to Humanity of Northwestern Connecticut. And there were plenty of the aforementioned items sitting in bags at the entryway of the Carriage House.
On hand was Deirdre DiCara, Executive Director of FISH. “When I heard that this was happening I was thrilled,” she said. “I grew up in Winchester Center with Gerri and Kathryn Griswold and we were childhood friends and went through school together. We always have such a need at this time of the year and this will further help us with our mission at FISH.”
Gerri Griswold, White Memorial Conservation Center’s Director of Administration and Development, sat with her sister at the greeting table, welcoming guests and explaining how the day came about.
“This is a resurrection of something we (did) in 2009 and 2010,” she said. “We shelved it for a few years, but when Robin McCahill said she would put on the puppet show we decided it would be wonderful to bring it back. We wanted to make it free to the public, asking only that they bring an item of winter clothing and food as admission. We had 200 signups, although the weather may have kept a few people away.”
She added, “It is a good thing when we can receive needed items for FISH and we can give those items where they are most needed. It’s nice for the children to take part in the spirit of giving.”
Griswold said the day was made possible through the generosity of an anonymous donor, and that she hopes the event can become an annual tradition.
Morgan Fisher of Washington, a science teacher at The Gunnery School, took her sons to see Santa before taking in the puppet show.
“I actually taught a few classes a few summers in the Mott-Van Winkle Classroom and they did such a great job dressing it up for the season,” she said. “We take part in a number of events and programs at White Memorial with the kids and this is such a nice thing for them to stage.”
Learn more about White Memorial’s events and programs at https://white