Miniature Santa Claus and Sleigh
12 cm length x 22.5 cm width
Maymont Mansion Collection, 97.0003
Here today we are on the brink of Christmas 2018, and I am thinking back to 1983 when the granddaughter of Mrs. Dooley’s great-great niece, Helen Cope (née Scroll), stood on the doorstep of the Maymont Mansion to deliver what her grandmother, Nancy Elder Brown, had told me about several years before – the only remaining Christmas ornament from the Dooleys’ home.
In my imagination the Santa and sleigh had grown to be a large, silver centerpiece upon which we could focus Maymont’s Dining Room Christmas decorations. We were yearning for something large, impressive and authentic that would stand out among all the period Christmas décor we were accumulating. No Dooley-authentic decorations had come to the fore, yet our great hope was coming down from Staunton and would be arriving at the porte cochère shortly. The lovely young, fair-haired girl, Helen Scroll (very much favoring the portrait of her great great Aunt Sallie Dooley), rang the doorbell and stood at the Maymont Mansion doorstep, box in hand. It was the size of a shoe box, yet still we hoped. Helen was welcomed, and we gently opened the box. Yet, the imagined silver Dooley sleigh was but a small, humble cold-painted metal Santa seated in a small white painted box, pulled by two metal reindeer, their antlers slightly bent from wear and tear.
Though my grandiose expectations were dashed, we were all very happy to add the original miniature Santa and sleigh to the collection. Not the dining table centerpiece I had longed for, the dear Santa and sleigh found a fitting place beneath the small Morning Room table-top tree, our period “feather” tree, decked with other tiny period ornaments, some of which were donated in 2018 by Lynn Appleton Moor. The Morning Room was the perfect place, and we were happy to welcome the one-known original Dooley Christmas decoration. We were reminded of the admonishment “Good things come in small packages.” And indeed it became so in this case.
According to Nancy Elder Brown, great-great niece of Mrs. Dooley, she remembered that each year James Dooley would fill the back the sleigh with gold coins for Mrs. Dooley to find on Christmas morning. And duly, each Christmas season, the back of the sleigh is filled with gold coins – the gold-foiled, chocolate variety – now our annual nod to the Dooleys’ tradition.
The Dooley Santa and sleigh was donated in 1997 by Helen Scroll Cope, great great niece of Mrs. Dooley, one of the descendants with whom we are pleased to maintain ongoing friendship.
Very best wishes at Christmas tide.
Curator of the Maymont Mansion
Written by Dale Wheary, Maymont Curator and Director of Historical Collections and Programs, this post is part of a blog series commemorating Maymont Mansion’s 125th anniversary. Each post in the series will detail significant objects, from sculptures and paintings to furniture and fine porcelain, in the Maymont Museum Collection. Read all posts in the series here.
Visit Maymont Mansion to see the miniature Santa Claus and sleigh, as well as other holiday decorations and more from the mansion collection.