Photo courtesy of the Dallas Arboretum

Growing up on Lakewood Boulevard, Mary Brinegar’s house was a destination. Her family celebrated the Fourth of July festivities with patriotic gusto, and on Halloween, her mother turned the bottom floor into a haunted house, complete with blindfolds and peeled-grape eyeballs, entertaining Brinegar’s friends from Lakewood Elementary, J.L. Long and eventually Woodrow Wilson.

Christmas was another opportunity for friends, family and neighbors to gather, and when her father gave her mother a nutcracker as a gift in 1976, it began an impressive collection.

Over the years, Brinegar’s mother Rosemary received them from friends and family’s travels throughout the world, quickly growing her collection. The assortment required a categorization system created by her father, with each nutcracker stored in the original box and catalogued with a description and unique identification number.

Over the years, the family collected over 300 nutcrackers, ranging from 1.5 inches to 4 feet tall. The figurines are as diverse in character as they are in size, with historical figures such as Ben Franklin rubbing wooden elbows with Yoda and the Phantom of the Opera. Many of the nutcrackers are made by Steinbach, a German company that has been hand-crafting nutcrackers since the thirteenth century.

Photo courtesy of the Dallas Arboretum

Brinegar’s mother passed away last year, and when the Arboretum was planning a Christmas display for the DeGolyer House, Brinegar’s collection was a perfect fit. It didn’t hurt that Brinegar is also the President and CEO of the Arboretum, and has been working there for 21 years.

This winter, Brinegar’s collection has been combined with the Himert family’s nutcrackers in the Degolyer House to recreate scenes from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, “The Nutcracker.” Each room in the house is thematically arranged to bring the viewer into a scene from the ballet, from a Chinese Tea Party to the Sugar Plum Fairy room, including a page from the story and a tree decorated to fit the scene.  The rooms are adorned with dozens of nutcrackers as well, each with their own intricate detail.

Brinegar attributes the success of the exhibit to the Arboretum staff. “It is elegantly done to meld with the house,” she says. “It is one of the joys of East Dallas. You can count on beauty and elegance for special moments with friends and family.”

The exhibit will run thru Jan. 7, with tours from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., and is included with the price of admission. Neighbors can also take in the nutcrackers at night, which allows guests to take in the “12 Days of Christmas” display at the Arboretum.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.