The Durkee Mansion opened its doors for the holiday season Sunday, as the public enjoyed the first day of tours of the historic house decked out in vintage yuletide charm.
Part of the Christmas at Kemper Center celebrations, other events Sunday included the ongoing Gallery of Trees, featuring 20 trees decorated by volunteers that visitors could purchase raffle tickets to try to win, and a Holiday Art Market on the third floor, which was held for one day only.
The 2021 decoration theme is “Starry Woodland Nights.” Matching the theme, small woodland creatures were hidden throughout the house on Sunday.
Robin Ingrouille, administrator for the nonprofit Kemper Center Inc., said she was glad to reopen the tours to the public after last year forced more limited showings.
After missing out last year, people seemed excited to return, and Ingrouille said the previous night’s gala and Sunday’s turnout was promising.
Volunteers make it happen
Ingrouille expressed her thanks to the many volunteers who helped decorate the mansion who she said were diligent in keeping the decorations as true to the 1860s, the era the house was originally built, as possible.
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“I’m so grateful to our dedicated volunteers,” Ingrouille said. “Every year they outdo themselves.”
Dennis Garafol, an experienced decorator with the Kemper Center, said the volunteers loved the work, even though it could get a bit messy.
“It looked like a tornado came through, with all the boxes,” Garafol said, laughing.
Many of the volunteers shared personal connections with the building and its long Kenosha history.
Jodi Zahn, who was volunteering at the Gallery of Trees, said her mother, Sharon Roach, is the last living employee of Kemper Hall, the name of the center when it served as a girls’ boarding school.
“What better place to put my time into,” Zahn said, “I can tell people I’m walking in my mother’s footsteps.”
Judy Sommers, who was upstairs sharing the history of the building with any curious guests, said her grandmother was a cook at the school.
“This is my favorite thing to do,” Sommers said. “I feel like I’m walking the same halls she did.
In the artists’ lair
On the third and fourth floor, a crowd of guests made its way through hallways of what had once been dorm rooms. Today, they have been converted into small art studios, available to local artists to rent.
The walls and rooms were full of paintings, sketches, jewelry and art of all kinds, as the artists shared their work with the public as part of the one-day only Holiday Art Market.
Brigitta Richter, a multi-media artist, said she loved the studios, and how it allowed fellow artists to come together. The view of the lake, Richter said, was also a bonus.
“It’s beautiful,” Richter said of the Kemper Center, “One of the most beautiful in Kenosha, and the most beautiful view.”
Richter was equally positive about the art market, which she said many artists wanted to happen more often.
“It’s wonderful,” Richter said, “As artists, we talk and chat and share our working spaces.”
Although the market is over, Richter said guests can contact artists for smaller, personal art tours.
The Durkee Mansion Holiday Open House is scheduled to be open throughout this week and the weekend, including the Gallery of Trees. After Dec. 5, the mansion tour will be open on weekends throughout December and early January.
More information on the Holiday Open House schedule and the Kemper Center can be found online at kempercenter.com under events.