How Christmas Seals Caught On In Delaware

In 1907, Wilmington activist Emily Bissell turned to a Philadelphia newspaper to raise money for tuberculosis treatment.


Published:

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Don’t let anyone kid you. Fake news is an old tradition—and everyone loves it.

Take, for instance, Emily Bissell’s idea to raise money for tuberculosis treatment in 1907. Her Christmas Seals sold modestly, but needed a large burst of publicity to bring in needed cash. So Bissell found a newspaper editor who recognized the promotional potential of a feel-good cause that all of his readers could participate in.

“Tell Miss Bissell the North American is hers for the holidays,” E. A. Van Valkenburg, editor-in-chief of the influential Philadelphia newspaper, told one of his columnists. “Drop what you’re doing and give this your whole time. Take all the space you need. Ask her to send us 50,000 (Christmas Seals) by tomorrow.”

At that moment, Bissell’s entire inventory consisted of only 4,000 Christmas Seals, which she hoped to sell for a penny each. To supply 50,000, she had to scramble. But she got it done and, in the end, raised $3,000—10 times the original goal.

A lifelong Wilmingtonian, Emily Perkins Bissell (1861-1948) was the daughter of a prominent family who believed in volunteerism. As a young woman, she founded the city’s first public kindergarten and joined a group lobbying for child-labor laws. In 1883, she founded the Italian Neighborhood House to assist new immigrants with Americanization, literacy, housing and employment. It survives as the West End Neighborhood House.


RELATED: The Enduring Importance of Wilmington's West End Neighborhood House


In 1907, knowing of Bissell’s connections, her cousin John Wales, M.D., came to her for help. Wales operated a small TB “shack”—a sort of open-air hospital—but was almost out of money.

Now rare, TB—or consumption—is an infectious disease of the lungs that was once a major killer. Before development of an effective vaccine in the 1920s, the primary treatment was fresh air and sunshine. In Delaware, in 1904, the fledgling Delaware Anti-Tuberculosis Society raised $4,000 to open such a facility near what is now Bellevue State Park. When NIMBY neighbors objected, Alfred I. du Pont, creator of the splendid Nemours estate, offered the use of his property near the Brandywine.

“We struggled along those first years, always fighting against public apathy and financial stringency,” Wales recalled in 1932. “I well remember one cold morning the patron calling me up on the phone to tell me there was not enough food for the patients and no money to buy any.”

Challenged to “see what you can do,” Bissell recalled reading of a Danish program that sold small lick-and-stick stamps—Christmas Seals—that people put on their holiday mail. Two friends contributed $20 each to underwrite the effort, and a printer did the job on credit.

The DuPont Co. handled publicity and advertising. Women’s clubs, shopkeepers and local newspapers showed interest. The Wilmington post office allowed Bissell to sell her stamps in its corridor. On Dec. 7, 1907, the first day of sales produced $25.

Bissell, however, worried that sales in little Wilmington would be insufficient to reach her goal of $300. She got on the train to Philadelphia, where the Sunday editor at the North American threw her out of his office. TB, he said, was a terrible disease, so why should he spoil everyone’s fun by tying it to a beloved holiday?

Next, Bissell poked her head into the office of columnist Leigh Hodges to say she “liked his writing.” The writer absorbed the compliment and asked if there was anything he could do for her. Bissell had some ideas.

Remember that TB was an ancient disease. Signs of it are recognizable in Egyptian mummies. It was generally considered incurable, a likely death sentence. Physicians such as Wales who said otherwise were mocked. Its treatment was not seen as urgent. TB was not news.

Still, Hodges was intrigued, then excited. It was the holidays, and newspapers needed human-interest stories to bring readers. Sob stories—stricken children! dying mothers!—were irresistible.

Hodges took a sheet of Bissell’s stamps and slammed them on his editor’s desk.

“Here’s a way to wipe out tuberculosis!” he exclaimed.

“What the hell do you mean?” replied Van Valkenburg.

“Just that! Look at them: a penny apiece; within everyone’s reach,” replied Hodges. “Think how they’ll carry the news of what people can do for themselves. What a headline: Stamp out tuberculosis!”

Van Valkenburg thought for a moment of the weepy stories waiting to be written and of the touched masses waiting to push forward their pennies. Soon, Bissell had all the fake news she wanted.

Not fake to all, of course. On the first day of sales in Philadelphia, Hodges wrote of a small boy who approached a counter he couldn’t see over and handed up a penny: “Gimme one,” he said. “Me sister’s got it.”

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410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
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Telephone: 302-239-2434
Contact Name: Nicole Schmid
Website »

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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600 N. Market St.
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Telephone: 302-622-8000
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Telephone: 130-265-66466

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200 South Madison Street
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Telephone: 130-265-66466

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Cost: $25–$45

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
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View map »


Sponsor: The University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

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Featuring designer solutions for small interior spaces and backyards, hands-on DIY project workshops and a Succulent Bar, more than 300 exhibitors, and home design celebrities Clint Harp and Matt...

Cost: $10

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Cost: 0.00

Where:
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
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View map »


Telephone: 302-239-2434
Contact Name: Nicole Schmid
Website »

More information

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Cost: free

Where:
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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200 South Madison Street
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View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

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Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

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2301 Kentmere Parkway
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View map »

More information

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View map »


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Telephone: 302-622-8000
Contact Name: Susan Couby

More information

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Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

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Cost: $25–$45

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
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View map »


Sponsor: The University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

More information

Featuring designer solutions for small interior spaces and backyards, hands-on DIY project workshops and a Succulent Bar, more than 300 exhibitors, and home design celebrities Clint Harp and Matt...

Cost: $10

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View map »


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47 W. Main Street
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View map »

More information

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Cost: 0.00

Where:
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
Hockessin, DE  19736
View map »


Telephone: 302-239-2434
Contact Name: Nicole Schmid
Website »

More information

Winter Group Show  A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including paintings, drawings, ceramics, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift Certificates are always...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

Bernard Jackson Felch, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 83, was an accomplished water-colorist, sculptor, ceramicist and teacher whose work has been seen in museums, schools, universities,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design’s Toni & Stuart
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Wilmington , DE  19801
View map »


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Telephone: 302-622-8000
Contact Name: Susan Couby

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Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

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Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
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2301 Kentmere Parkway
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View map »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
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200 South Madison Street
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View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

IN BETWEEN THEREShelley Thorstensen November 24, 2018 - March 17, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, December 7 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop For her first solo exhibition in Delaware,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

THE FAR IS NEAR Graham Dougherty & Ruth Ansel January 5 - 31, 2019 Opening reception: January 11  | 7 - 9 PM Graham Dougherty  ”We give shape...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

HALF : HALF A Draper Experiment by Willie Yao January 4 -  February 24, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Schedule a private group tour followed by lunch or dinner with a historic, revolutionary war era presentation.* Ideal for conferences, corporate meetings, special interest groups. $25 per...

Cost: $25–$45

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: The University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

More information

ORIGINS Rick Rothrock & Stan Smokler January 8 - April 22, 2019 Special Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  5:30 - 7:30 PM Artist Talk | 6:30 PM The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Featuring designer solutions for small interior spaces and backyards, hands-on DIY project workshops and a Succulent Bar, more than 300 exhibitors, and home design celebrities Clint Harp and Matt...

Cost: $10

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch Street
Exhibition Hall F
Philadelphia, PA  19107
View map »


Sponsor: Philly Home Show
Website »

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Adults learn a craft technique and make a work of art to take home. Wine and refreshments will be available in the café while you create. $15 Members, $20 Non-Members.  Jan 17 Embroidery...

Cost: $15 Members, $20 Non-Members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

LEGALLY BLONDE JR. Tickets: $10 All Seats Based on the award-winning Broadway musical and the smash hit motion picture, Legally BlondeThe Musical JR. is a fabulously fun journey of...

Cost: $10.00

Where:
Everett Theatre
47 W. Main Street
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »

More information

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CCArts Winter class registrations are open   The Center for the Creative Arts presents its Winter 2019 class and workshop offerings. With over 50 classes and workshops there is...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
Hockessin, DE  19736
View map »


Telephone: 302-239-2434
Contact Name: Nicole Schmid
Website »

More information

Winter Group Show  A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including paintings, drawings, ceramics, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift Certificates are always...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

NEW HEIGHTS Erica Loustau  January 11 - December 11, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  7 - 9 PM Seeking to engage the unused space of our atrium lobby, artist...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

A SENSE OF PLACE 47°-80° N Bethany Springer January 16 - May 12, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1, 2019 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop A Sense of Place 47° - 80°...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

IN BETWEEN THEREShelley Thorstensen November 24, 2018 - March 17, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, December 7 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop For her first solo exhibition in Delaware,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Bernard Jackson Felch, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 83, was an accomplished water-colorist, sculptor, ceramicist and teacher whose work has been seen in museums, schools, universities,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design’s Toni & Stuart
600 N. Market St.
Wilmington , DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: DCAD
Telephone: 302-622-8000
Contact Name: Susan Couby

More information

Pre-Raphaelite painter and women’s rights campaigner Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827–1891) was an early female participant in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Landscape was Bodichon’s...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

THE FAR IS NEAR Graham Dougherty & Ruth Ansel January 5 - 31, 2019 Opening reception: January 11  | 7 - 9 PM Graham Dougherty  ”We give shape...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

For more than 90 years, the Delaware Art Museum has showcased contemporary craft by artists working locally and throughout the region. The Museum’s first juried Contemporary Crafts Show was...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through discovery, exploration, and hands-on experiences.Ages 2 and up. Visit delart.org for list of books. ...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

HALF : HALF A Draper Experiment by Willie Yao January 4 -  February 24, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Schedule a private group tour followed by lunch or dinner with a historic, revolutionary war era presentation.* Ideal for conferences, corporate meetings, special interest groups. $25 per...

Cost: $25–$45

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: The University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

More information

Featuring designer solutions for small interior spaces and backyards, hands-on DIY project workshops and a Succulent Bar, more than 300 exhibitors, and home design celebrities Clint Harp and Matt...

Cost: $10

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch Street
Exhibition Hall F
Philadelphia, PA  19107
View map »


Sponsor: Philly Home Show
Website »

More information

ORIGINS Rick Rothrock & Stan Smokler January 8 - April 22, 2019 Special Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  5:30 - 7:30 PM Artist Talk | 6:30 PM The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

CASA of Camden County Presents a Benefit Show with Renowned Illusionist Jason Bishop. Enjoy a night of incredible entertainment with the whole family while supporting the efforts of CASA throughout...

Cost: $25

Where:
Pfleeger Concert Hall, Rowan University
North Campus Drive
Glassboro, NJ  08028
View map »


Sponsor: CASA of Camden County
Telephone: 856-361-7180
Contact Name: Jonathan Cummings
Website »

More information

LEGALLY BLONDE JR. Tickets: $10 All Seats Based on the award-winning Broadway musical and the smash hit motion picture, Legally BlondeThe Musical JR. is a fabulously fun journey of...

Cost: $10.00

Where:
Everett Theatre
47 W. Main Street
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »

More information

“An engaging exploration of what can be achieved by bringing ancient and modern into creative fusion.” – Jazzwise   Experience new sounds from the ancient...

Cost: $30 Members, $35 Non-members, $25 Students

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Winter Group Show  A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including paintings, drawings, ceramics, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift Certificates are always...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

CCArts Winter class registrations are open   The Center for the Creative Arts presents its Winter 2019 class and workshop offerings. With over 50 classes and workshops there is...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
410 Upper Snuff Mill Row
Hockessin, DE  19736
View map »


Telephone: 302-239-2434
Contact Name: Nicole Schmid
Website »

More information

Sharpen your pencils for the 15th DCAD Drawing Marathon! This full-day festival of figure drawing will feature models in a variety of poses and vignettes.

Cost: $30 in advance or $35 at the door.

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design
600 N. Market St. Wilmington, DE 19801
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware College of Art and Design
Telephone: 302-622-8000
Contact Name: Randle Reed

More information

NEW HEIGHTS Erica Loustau  January 11 - December 11, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  7 - 9 PM Seeking to engage the unused space of our atrium lobby, artist...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

A SENSE OF PLACE 47°-80° N Bethany Springer January 16 - May 12, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1, 2019 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop A Sense of Place 47° - 80°...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466
Website »

More information

IN BETWEEN THEREShelley Thorstensen November 24, 2018 - March 17, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, December 7 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop For her first solo exhibition in Delaware,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Bernard Jackson Felch, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 83, was an accomplished water-colorist, sculptor, ceramicist and teacher whose work has been seen in museums, schools, universities,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design’s Toni & Stuart
600 N. Market St.
Wilmington , DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: DCAD
Telephone: 302-622-8000
Contact Name: Susan Couby

More information

Pre-Raphaelite painter and women’s rights campaigner Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827–1891) was an early female participant in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Landscape was Bodichon’s...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

THE FAR IS NEAR Graham Dougherty & Ruth Ansel January 5 - 31, 2019 Opening reception: January 11  | 7 - 9 PM Graham Dougherty  ”We give shape...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

For more than 90 years, the Delaware Art Museum has showcased contemporary craft by artists working locally and throughout the region. The Museum’s first juried Contemporary Crafts Show was...

Cost: Free for members. Included in Museum admission fee for non-members.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Schedule a private group tour followed by lunch or dinner with a historic, revolutionary war era presentation.* Ideal for conferences, corporate meetings, special interest groups. $25 per...

Cost: $25–$45

Where:
The University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: The University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125
Contact Name: Stacey Inglis
Website »

More information

HALF : HALF A Draper Experiment by Willie Yao January 4 -  February 24, 2019 Opening Reception: Friday, February 1 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Featuring designer solutions for small interior spaces and backyards, hands-on DIY project workshops and a Succulent Bar, more than 300 exhibitors, and home design celebrities Clint Harp and Matt...

Cost: $10

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch Street
Exhibition Hall F
Philadelphia, PA  19107
View map »


Sponsor: Philly Home Show
Website »

More information

ORIGINS Rick Rothrock & Stan Smokler January 8 - April 22, 2019 Special Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019  5:30 - 7:30 PM Artist Talk | 6:30 PM The Delaware Contemporary...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-66466

More information

Sharpen your pencils for the 15th DCAD Drawing Marathon! This full-day festival of figure drawing will feature models in a variety of poses and vignettes.

Cost: $30 in advance or $35 at the door.

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design
600 N. Market St. Wilmington, DE 19801
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware College of Art and Design
Telephone: 302-622-8000
Contact Name: Randle Reed

More information

Nancy Viau - Afternoon With The Author Join the Hockessin Book Shelf and Children's Book Author Nancy Viau on Saturday, January 19th for a Book Reading, Craft, Discussion, and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hockessin BookShelf
7179 Lancaster Pike
hockessin, DE  19707
View map »


Telephone: 302-235-7665

More information

LEGALLY BLONDE JR. Tickets: $10 All Seats Based on the award-winning Broadway musical and the smash hit motion picture, Legally BlondeThe Musical JR. is a fabulously fun journey of...

Cost: $10.00

Where:
Everett Theatre
47 W. Main Street
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »

More information

The Rocky Horror Picture Show This interactive movie experience combines film and live performers. The cult-classic is a humorous tribute to the science fiction and horror B movies of the late...

Cost: 9

Where:
Theatre N
235 W. 10th St
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Frankie's Midnight Runners
Telephone: 302-571-4075
Contact Name: Richard
Website »

More information

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