Henry Francis du Pont was visiting a friend in Vermont when he noticed an everyday American-made cupboard filled with valuable Staffordshire china in her home.

“It triggered an epiphany,” says Mark Nardone, communications manager at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. “He thought it was absolutely beautiful, and it ignited his passion for collecting American decorative arts.”

Port Royal Entrance Hall, Winterthur
Credit: Winterthur

Although European style and decor was the rage among society’s elite at the time, du Pont saw the potential to design spaces that were equally beautiful using American furniture, art, and accessories. “So that is what he began to do,” Nardone says.

The result is Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library in New Castle, Delaware. The museum offers a world-renowned collection of nearly 90,000 objects made since 1640. The collection is displayed in a magnificent 175-room house, much as it was when du Pont called it home.

Opened to the public in 1951, Winterthur “tells stories about commerce and trade; design and craftsmanship; the progress of technology; immigration and the exchange of ideas, class structure, and personal comportment; enslavement and its legacies and use of resources—so many subjects that are thoroughly relevant today,” Nardone says.

When first lady Jacqueline Kennedy toured Winterthur in May 1961, it helped inform her vision of what the White House could be. Instead of a drab relic, Kennedy wanted to transform the White House into a showcase of all the things that make America great and special.

To do that, the 31-year-old first lady called upon the 81-year-old du Pont, creating the White House Fine Arts Committee with du Pont as chairman. The result, of course, was something magical.

Winterthur also is home to a world-class library of American lifestyles through time. And du Pont’s beloved 60-acre garden is one of the few surviving examples of the “wild garden” or naturalistic style that was popular at the turn of the 20th century. Groups are welcome to enjoy self-paced and guided tour options in the museum and garden.

“The collection of plants tells many stories, too,” Nardone says. “Of course, Henry Francis du Pont was a master designer of interior spaces, gardens, and, really, the entire 1,000-acre Winterthur landscape, so it is all stunningly gorgeous.”

Article by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Main image: Winterthur; Credit: Winterthur