WINTERTHUR, De. (AP) — A longtime employee of Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library has been selected to run the popular Delaware tourist attraction.
Chris Strand, who previously had been head director of the garden and estate, is now in charge of the former estate of Henry Francis du Pont off Delaware Route 52 between Greenville and Centreville.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic, recent storm damage on the estate, shifting tastes, changes in school visits, and new technologies all present challenges and opportunities,’ says Chris Strand, newly appointed as director and CEO of Winterthur Museum & Library.
Winterthur is centered on a grand 175-room mansion on a 1,000-acre estate in “Chateau Country,” Delaware’s most exclusive region and for generations the home of extended members of the du Pont family.
The museum houses one of the best collections of American decorative arts in the United States and has historic ties to the White House. In 1961, First Lady Jackie Kennedy sought out Henry Francis du Pont, an old family friend of her mother’s, to help restore the White House during her husband’s administration. It was considered one of the most influential interior design projects in American history.
President Joe Biden, after the death of his first wife Neilia and baby daughter Naomi, once rented a house on Winterthur’s grounds for about a year in the 1970s. He and his wife Dr. Jill Biden currently have a home in Greenville that’s about four miles away from the museum.
Chris Strand has been serving as Winterthur’s interim director and CEO ever since former director Carol B. Cadou resigned from the position in May after a three-year stint.
At that time, Cadou wrote a letter to Winterthur staff saying she was leaving the position because of family reasons and would be “returning to our family home in Bethesda, Maryland.”
In June, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America announced Cadou would become its executive director on Sept. 7. She is based at its Dumbarton House in Washington, D.C.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial pressures for museums across the nation and Winterthur has not been spared.
In July 2020, under Cadou’s helm, Winterthur laid-off employees in four divisions with its public safety department receiving the biggest cuts.
Documents obtained by Delaware Online/The News Journal showed that 27 positions were eliminated. All were regular, non-seasonal and non-temporary employees.
Cadou’s announced departure last May took some by surprise since she seemed to be planning for a long stay as the museum’s head.
A November 2020 article in the New York Times detailed how a Federal-style brick building on the property known as Chandler Farm was renovated and redesigned for the Cadou family with the help of Thomas Jayne, a New York-based interior designer.
In a May 2 opinion piece for Delaware Online/The News Journal, written a few weeks before her resignation, Cadou wrote she was looking forward to 2022, “when we will unveil a special exhibition, “Jacqueline Kennedy and Henry Francis du Pont: From Winterthur to the White House.”
The exhibit is set to begin in May 2022.
In May, Winterthur also announced the departure of J. Thomas Savage, the director behind one of Winterthur’s most successful exhibitions the “Costumes of Downton Abbey” just weeks after Cadou’s announcement. It has been the museum’s highest-grossing and best-attended show.
Savage, a 16-year Winterthur veteran, is now Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s director of educational travel and conferences.
Winterthur museum is known for hosting its annual Point-to-Point steeplechase racing and tailgating, which is one of the state’s most anticipated events in the spring. A Delaware tradition since 1979, it has attracted up to 18,000 spectators.
The museum also was featured in several episodes of the PBS series “Antiques Road Show.” PBS has recently been reairing the Winterthur episodes that were filmed on the museum grounds in 2019.
Chris Strand has been with Winterthur since 2005
Kathy P. Booth, chair of the Winterthur Board of Trustees, said the Winterthur board “is thrilled to have someone who knows Winterthur so well.”
“Chris is so skilled in so many areas — fundraising, morale raising, communication,” she said in a prepared statement.
Strand’s long career in horticulture outreach, education and management has included being director of Green Spring Gardens in Fairfax County, Virginia, from January 1998 to May 2005, and managing its continuing evolution from private property to a public garden and historic site.
He also was an outreach horticulturist at The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University from July 1993 to January 1998.
As interim Winterthur director, Strand was responsible for all aspects of museum, library, and garden operations, including management of Winterthur’s academic programs through the University of Delaware, fundraising, board relations, long-range planning, budget oversight, and daily coordination of the senior management team in service of Winterthur’s mission.
He continues that work in his new role.
“I am pleased and honored to be stepping into this role at this moment in Winterthur’s history,” Strand said in a prepared statement.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, recent storm damage on the estate, shifting tastes, changes in school visits, and new technologies all present challenges and opportunities.”
He credits the Winterthur staff for their creativity in meeting challenges and embracing new audiences while remaining good stewards of the property and collection.
“I am very proud of them, and because of them, I am incredibly optimistic about our future,” Strand said.