By Stephanie Finnegan
One of collector Becky Feaster’s favorite pastimes is reading. She adores being immersed in historical fiction and nonfiction. “I like fiction that places the main characters into a real historical event and location. I enjoy reading about Victorian England, too,” the Texas resident reveals.
Before moving to Texas, the Feaster family lived in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the self-proclaimed history buff often “dragged” the kids to every Civil War battlefield and National Registry locale that she and her husband could find.
“I still like to visit historical sites on vacation. This spring, we went to Charleston, South Carolina. We enjoyed the food, the waterfronts, the people, and this awesome historical town (Colonial, Revolutionary and Civil War). I am doing genealogical research on my family and I love it!” she declares.
So it makes perfect sense that when Feaster became enamored with Department 56 collecting, her affinity led her to the wonderful world of Charles Dickens.
“It all began in 1998 when my mother-in-law gave me the Dickens' Village ‘Start a Tradition Set,’ with the ‘Sudbury Church’ and the ‘Old East Rectory,’” Feaster elaborates. The enthusiast took the set’s slogan to heart, and did indeed begin to cultivate a tradition for herself and her now two grown daughters, aged 22 and 27.
“I loved the details of the houses and accessories, and since I am such a huge history fan, I liked that the products were from Victorian London and the Dickens books. This all appealed to me.”
As she began to acquire buildings and accessories—she estimates that she has 60 lit buildings and over 150 total pieces—her daughters also got into the act.
“When they were little, my daughters used to play with the people and make up their own stories,” Feaster recalls with a chuckle. “I would never know where I might find my accessories and people because they’d be moved around. The girls never broke any because they knew these were ‘special,’ so they took care. My family has always loved my ‘houses,’ as they call them.”
Utilizing the figures and the buildings to weave a tale wasn’t just her children’s favorite pastime; it’s also Feaster’s!
“I especially like my waterfront display, for I envision these people seeing each other regularly in the business of the harbor. I have been to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, so I imagine that my waterfront could have been like that place,” Feaster muses.
Her setups are arranged throughout her house in the so-called “public places” of the floor plan: “I display them in the family room, dining room, kitchen, hallways, foyer, and media room. I put up the village in October and keep it up until February. My husband has said to me that the house is not decorated for the holidays unless the village is out on display. My villages always give me peace and joy. The lit buildings seem to give my home a peaceful glow, and the stories of each display—and the people’s reactions to it—give me joy.”
Around the holidays, Feaster—like many Turner Classic Movies watchers—will find herself tuned into one of the classic filmed versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. However, she confesses that she has an unusual favorite retelling of the tale of avarice and redemption. “I really like the Disney animated version with Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit. This could be because my daughter and her husband are both animators.” When it comes to other Dickens-inspired movies, Feaster is more of a purist, admitting that she prefers the ones that feature real-life actors, not cartoon characters.
Honoring the British author who had such a vast imagination and widespread influence on all who followed, the collector has incorporated actual Charles Dickens books into her vignettes. “I recently picked up a vintage hardback copy of The Old Curiosity Shop and integrated it into my display,” she proudly states.
The specter of Charles Dickens glides over Becky Feaster’s collection, and 2012—the bicentenary of the author’s birth—has made her arrangements even more significant and meaningful. Even when the pieces aren’t on display, the collector is caring for and respecting them.
“I’ve had shelving built with electrical outlets and extra shelving built in my master bedroom closet for storage when not displayed. You really can’t keep them in the garage in south Texas—the summer heat would destroy them,” she explains. Preserving and protecting these items are important for Feaster. The same way that she has relished the landmarks and national tourist attractions that honor the history of her nation, she feels the need to preserve her personal heirlooms and treasures.
“I am looking forward to one day sharing my village with my grandchildren,” she comments. “Or after I’m gone, I believe my daughters will probably split the collection. I’m sure they each have their own favorite pieces. I know they will keep the tradition going!”