GILBERTSVILLE — If you’re one of the tens of thousands of local folks who enjoyed seeing “The Swamp Door Sleigh” displayed along historic Swamp Pike in recent years during the holidays, good news! It has a new “forever home” at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles.
Even better, visitors can be photographed in the antique Christmas-themed sleigh alongside a Victorian Santa at a Saturday, Dec. 21, museum event that’s sure to become a cherished annual tradition.
“What better way to celebrate this wonderful donation than to make it part of our community’s living heritage,” said Kendra Cook, museum curator/manager. “We’re thrilled we can preserve this vehicle and unique piece of art for generations to come while simultaneously inviting the public to participate in its history.”
The turn-of-the-century Michigan Buggy Co. sleigh, originally built in Kalamazoo, Mich., was acquired several years ago by John D. and Lisa A. Romero, owners of The Swamp Door Antiques & Curiosities, who hoped to transform it into a holiday display outside their store at 2030 Swamp Pike, Gilbertsville.
They commissioned noted folk-artist Nancy Stauffer of Gilbertsville to paint it. She completed it in 2017 – by far her largest single work in 40 years, lovingly detailed with Victorian Christmas scenes. When it debuted that holiday season, the sleigh received much media attention, and visitors traveled from near and far to pose with it. Then disaster struck.
“None of us considered the extreme toll that harsh winter would take,” said Lisa Romero. In just a few months outside, road salt devastated the paintings, even though a protective sealant had been used.
“Nancy painstakingly reworked the entire sleigh, top to bottom,” Romero said, adding there are four large winter scenes on each side, as well as multiple traditional folk-art flourishes on the piece. “We couldn’t let that happen again.”
For a while after the restoration, the sleigh was shown indoors at the antiques/vintage store. But everyone involved in the project felt they had let the community down.
“It was always meant to be displayed where people could enjoy and most fully appreciate it,” Romero said. “That’s why, earlier this year, we began negotiating how to transfer the piece to the museum, where we had hoped it would eventually find a home. It belongs to the community now.”
The goal was to donate the sleigh, valued at $5,000, in about 10 years, Romero said. “But we decided the most important thing was to preserve Nancy’s artwork and make it accessible, once again, to everyone. We were delighted the museum agreed to accept this gift from us now.”
Stauffer, a retired hair stylist and grandmother of three who also teaches classes in her home studio, says this is her first publicly displayed artwork.
“It’s humbling to think my sleigh is now part of the museum’s collection. And I love that people will actually be able to interact with it, make memories with it,” she added. “For an artist like me, that’s a dream come true.”
“A Vintage Christmas” will take place at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles, 85 S. Walnut St., Boyertown, on Dec. 21 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will feature a guest-appearance by a Victorian-attired Santa, picture-taking opportunities with him and the sleigh, a hot chocolate bar in the restored Fegley’s diner onsite, and even blacksmithing demonstrations.
Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors. Children ages 15 and under are free. For more information call 610-367-2090.