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16 Dec
Fri / 2011

A Masterson Family Christmas

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While many of you are bustling around, shopping for gifts or decorating your homes for the holiday season, Rienzi is busy doing the very same thing! Every December the atmosphere at Rienzi reflects that of the holiday season; the house becomes a bit cheerier and holiday embellishments grace our rooms. Before Rienzi became part of the MFAH, the Masterson family celebrated Christmas in the home and now, as a museum, we try to keep some of their family traditions alive so that visitors can see how the family lived in Rienzi at the holiday season.

Every year, the week after Thanksgiving, the Garden Club of Houston decorates three trees at Rienzi. The “Family Tree,” located in the Living Room, is decorated with ornaments inherited from the Masterson’s collection of holiday decorations. They include some that are homemade by the generations that enjoyed Rienzi before it became a museum. On the tree, you will also find photographs of some members of the family.

The “Needlepoint Tree,” in the Library, is decorated with needlepoint ornaments created by members of the Garden Club of Houston. Among the designs are birds, flowers, Santa Clauses, and the White House. The Garden Club of Houston began creating needlepoint ornaments for Rienzi around 2000. Admirers of this tree also have the opportunity to see some of Harris Masterson III’s needlepoint works that are on display scattered throughout Rienzi. The Library is also home to Guido Reni’s Saint Joseph and the Christ Child, with Joseph tenderly holding the infant, which is very much in tune with the Christmas season.

Rienzi’s third Christmas tree is in the Ballroom. Named “A Texas 1950s Christmas Tree,” this tree was designed by Bernice Perkins Hoag. A native of Arkansas, Mrs. Hoag moved to Texas to attend the University of Texas, eventually migrating to Houston in 1934. In the 1950s she decorated her family’s Christmas tree with ornaments she created herself. Using a new-fangled material, popular at that time, Styrofoam, along with fabric, ribbon, faux gems, jewels, and pearls, she fashioned all of the ball-shaped, jewel-toned ornaments seen on this tree.

A Masterson family tradition that Rienzi keeps alive is the display of their family Nativity scene. On view in Rienzi’s Mexican Room, the Neapolitan Nativity scene features the traditional crèche figures along with Italian peasants, musicians, and an angel hanging from the room’s chandelier. Also on view in the Mexican Room, complementing the Neapolitan Nativity, is an early 17th-century painting, The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Pedro Orrente.

Stop by Rienzi on Wednesday evening, December 21, for a Holiday Twilight Tour to see the decorations and enjoy the family atmosphere. Experience the house at your leisure from 5 to 8 p.m. while sipping the Masterson family eggnog and sampling other holiday goodies. Please call 713.639.7800 or click here for more information!

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About Casey Monahan

Casey Monahan

Casey Monahan joined Rienzi as education assistant in 2010. She received her B.A. in art history and history from the College of the Holy Cross, and her M.A. in art history from the University of Houston. At Rienzi, the Massachusetts native works with docents, tours, and other public programs. 

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