In 1991, Martha Hicks’ late mother, Edith Blackhurst, started a tradition. She gave Martha and her husband, Jack, five Dickens Village buildings. Inspired by the books of Charles Dickens, these miniature buildings, homes, and characters depict the setting of 19th century Victorian England. Over the last 27 years, Martha says their collection grew – from five to forty-five buildings and over 100 figures and accessories.
Each year, Martha, Jack, and Edith, who lived at Chelsea Retirement Community (CRC), enjoyed a trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan for a chicken dinner and visit to world-famous Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. Each year, they would purchase something new for their Dickens Village, which quickly outgrew the space on their fireplace mantel. Jack, a woodworker, built extensions on either side of the fireplace to hold the figures – one side for “rural” and one for “urban” scenes.
When the Ann Arbor couple moved to CRC themselves earlier this year, they decided to do some downsizing. They donated their extensive Dickens Village collection to CRC for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Jack built a display cart and UMRC Project Manager, Sandra Drabant, brought the Dickens Village to life. “Putting the Dickens Village together ignited my imagination,” says Sandra. “It was fun to think about where the pieces would be best placed and how to create a story with the characters and buildings that Jack and Martha donated.”
Items in the Hicks’ collection include the Horse and Hounds Pub, Prettywell Sisters Lace Makers, and Giggleswick Mutton and Ham, to name just a few, as well as a school, church, bakery, and much more. Carolers, skaters, vendors, shoppers, and figures in horse-drawn carriages fill the display.
“There were many smiles and laughs while the village came together and grew,” adds Sandra. “Kate Collins (UMRC Vice President of Project Development) encouraged the village to have a little sparkle by continually adding more and more glitter to the 3-D scene, as well as adding the ‘village Sasquatch’ for some fun.”
This unique collection is attracting a lot of attention in its new home at CRC’s Glazier Commons Assisted Living Center. Staff members at Glazier Commons say the Dickens Village has become a destination for residents to come and explore all the buildings and figures on display in its plexi-glass case. Physical therapist, Sharon Rhodes, says it is a wonderful place for residents requiring therapy to walk to and also to look at while they are resting.
What do Martha and Jack think of the display? “It is phenomenal, just outstanding!” says Martha. “Sandra and Kate gave it their typical magic touch,” adds Jack. “We are delighted to know it is bringing joy to others.”
All of us at UMRC and the UMRC Foundation wish you a Merry Christmas and a bright and joyous New Year!