"Hold still, now," warns the man adjusting the multijointed headgear around the young girl's head. She sits motionless, holding her breath, and the pencil on the end of what looks like a dentist's drill begins to trace her profile as the man looks on approvingly. He's the physiognotracer at Winterthur Museum and Gardens' fourth annual country fair, only one of many old-time craftspeople who'll be there when the fair opens this Sunday. (If it rains, stay home and wait till next Sunday.)
If you can't get to an English country fair, this is the next thing to it -- a village fair straight out of an English novel, with volunteers wearing big picture hats and 19th- century dresses and small children clutching balloons and begging to pat the donkey's velvety nose just one more time. Striped tents, museum-class gift booths, unusual food, period craft demonstrations -- this is the Cadillac of fairs.
And what a setting for a fair! A mill stream winds in and out among handsome old trees, where goats and donkeys browse contentedly. You can picnic on the grass and watch, between bites, Scottish dancers or listen to a barbershop quartet wearing striped shirts and sleeve garters lean into an old fashioned song like "I'm Off To See My Sweetness Today."
This year, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first German settlements in the Delaware Valley, the fair will have a German accent. Food booths will be offering shoo- fly pie and funnel cakes, those crazy-shaped puff pastries dusted with powdered sugar. You can eat standing up while you watch experts demonstrating such German skills as fraktur -- fractured writing spiced with pictures celebrating family events -- and the making of redware pottery with characteristically Pennsylvania Dutch squiggles drawn through the color finish.
If you enter the annual Run-for-Fun in the morning, you'll get a purple T-shirt, free refreshments and even free admission, though you'll pay a registration fee. You have a choice of a five-mile run around the estate or a two-mile run for the less dedicated. If you have any energy left, you can participate in the Family Fitness Festival.
Every half-hour there's a tram ride through the gardens or, if you crave more excitement, a dry run on a firetruck or a hay wagon. For a lucky few who win the raffle, there'll be a ride in one of the hot-air balloons.
"Did you have fun here?" asks the sign on a wall in the children's Touch and Discover Room, and surely there has never been a single no. Kids can dress up here like 18th- century children with hats, coats and dresses; dip into baskets of early-day toys; and watch demonstrations of how to make bread, with test bites afterward. There's a guessing game, too: Around the room are period chairs and names of people who lived between 1640 and 1890 written on the walls; children are to choose the name of a famous person who might have sat in one of the chairs.
It's a bit of a problem, of course, to handle parking and still keep the area looking rustic, and that means a 10- minute walk from your car to the fun. But the walk is spiced up by a collection of antique cars parked along the tree-canopied lane. There's the pace of history in the cars -- the 1931 Ford with the rumble seat and the oogah horn, the 1928 Mercedes with an aura of Fitzgerald, the 1929 Ford, boxy and high, that looks like a gangster's car.
Inside the museum is a special 20-minute condensed tour of the rooms furnished with exceptional Queen Anne and Chippendale pieces. Or you can take the H.F. du Pont anniversary tour of six rooms, including the Montmorenci stair hall, considered one of the museum's prizes, and the Chinese Parlor, done up as it was in 1915 when the museum opened. The huge bowls of chrysanthemums and gladiolus are the single-flower, single-color arrangements of the mid-Fifties, specially designed to take you back to that period.
Browse in the gift shop, take a break in the wine and beer bar, and then wander through the displays -- an 1810 Duncan Phyfe price book, a 1701 pack of playing cards -- or watch a sheep-to-shawl demonstration: A nervous sheep will have his woolly coat removed; from his back, it will be handed down a line of craftsmen waiting to card, spin and weave it into a shawl for sale. There won't be time to dye it, so the shawl will be sheep-colored.
Should go with everything.
AT THE FAIR
The fair is Sunday from 11 to 5. Winterthur Museum and Gardens is on Route 52, six miles northwest of Wilmington: adults $5; over 62 and students through college, $4; children six to 12, $1. Covers all tours and rides. Parking free. Regular museum hours are 10 to 4 Tuesday through Saturday, 12 to 4 Sundays and holidays.