Critter time at BRM

A kayaking critter

Ten thousand handmade critters – made by 130 volunteers – are on sale today through Sunday at the Brandywine River Museum’s annual Holiday Critter Sale.

The critters, environmentally friendly Christmas decorations for both tabletop and the tree, have been a tradition at the museum for the last 46 years. The annual sale is held from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day and will offer visitors a chance to purchase everything from river rats to fairies to artist palettes to spiders and sloths.

“Critter making is a natural extension of our mission, by using all-natural materials in a very creative and artistic way,” said Donna Gormel, the director of volunteers and events for the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art. “The critters and the talented volunteers that make them are a source of great pride and admiration for the museum.

An artist critter is apropos for the Brandywine River Museum of Art.

“These enchanting creations support and promote the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art’s mission of preserving art and the environment,” Gormel said.

Critters are for sale starting from $5, and proceeds benefit the Art Education and Programming and the Volunteers’ Art Purchase Fund.

The story of how the critters are made is as unique as the critters themselves.

“This is like kindergarten for grown-ups,” said Helen Springer, a volunteer who has spent the last four years meeting three days a week with others at the “Critter House,” turning pieces of bark, acorns, nuts, berries, and other natural items into whimsical decorations.

The Critter House is an almost-century-old building on the campus of the Conservancy and the Museum. “It has a lot of character and suits very well the activity of making critters,” Gormel said.

Volunteers can choose to meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays, or on all three days, throughout the year. Gormel said the volunteers are also helped by about 20 people who gather the materials and work with inventory.

For the last 10 years, Lynne Gingrich has spent her mornings with the Monday volunteer group making critters. Just as important as the critters they make are the friendships that grow.

Even critters know a bad day fishing is better than a good day at the office.

“It’s the camaraderie and the friendships you make,” Gingrich said. “We work together as a team.”

Springer said the volunteers often draw inspiration from and help each other with their projects.

“The material itself tells you what it wants to be,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to do.”

For this year’s sale, Springer made a variety of critters. In honor of the Brandywine Conservancy and River Museum of Art’s 50th anniversary, she used pieces of bark and put two turtles on them, representing the conservancy and the museum.

She also made lifelike spiders in honor of the well-known arachnid from “Charlotte’s Web,” and teddy bears using the teasel plant.

Teasel, according to Gingrich, is one item that is used plentifully in critters.

Gingrich was inspired by a birthday card her husband received to make the “So Slow Sloth” critter this year. She also made monkeys in honor of the cartoon “Curious George.”

“They’re so cute – they have little bow ties on,” she said.

Those who miss the public sale this weekend can also purchase critters from the Museum shop from Dec. 4-Jan. 7.

For more information, call 610-388-2700 or go online at www.brandywinemuseum.org.

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About Monica Fragale

Monica Thompson Fragale is a freelance reporter who spent her life dreaming of being in the newspaper business. That dream came true after college when she started working at The Kennett Paper and, years later The Reporter newspaper in Lansdale and other dailies. She turned to non-profit work after her first daughter was born and spent the next 13 years in that field. But while you can take the girl out of journalism, you can’t take journalism out of the girl. Offers to freelance sparked the writing bug again started her fingers happily tapping away on the keyboard. Monica lives with her husband and two children in Kennett Square.

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