Every year I look forward to unpacking the Christmas ornaments and decorating the tree. My family likes to pick out a large fir that goes from floor to ceiling and festively commands the room. As I place each ornament on the tree, it whispers a story to me. Some ornaments are thirty something years old and come from my childhood, while others are even older and belonged to my parents. The newer ones remind me of our newlywed years, or when my son was a baby. Each one represents a time and place that is conjured up again every Christmas. The tree becomes a shimmering display of memories that dangle amidst the evergreen boughs and twinkle lights.
I enjoy the Christmas tree so much that I decided to dedicate two collage panels to this subject, displayed vertically one on top of the other. The ornaments in the collages were drawn from observation of our actual ornaments. A few were refurbished or re-created in the drawings to honor those favorites that were lost or broken. Most are from my childhood. There is a little white elephant who once lived inside a clear globe. One year the glass broke, while the elephant survived. Here I placed him back inside his protective bubble. There is a tiny snowman, a mouse on a red chair, a bird house, a cuckoo clock, and sparkly silver birds. There are red wooden sleds with the childhood nicknames of my sister and I carefully painted in white lettering, with a holiday greeting and the year 1980. I was nine, and Vicki was eleven. There is a gnome hiding amongst evergreens in a glass mushroom, a flat wooden soldier, and a beautiful Japanese Girl with a satiny red dress and silky tassels.
My childhood favorite was a plastic Humpty Dumpty, dapperly dressed and sitting on a brick wall, grinning gaily, his hands in the air. While he might seem somewhat incongruous amongst the more traditionally themed Christmas ornaments, for me, it was Humpty who best expressed the joy of the season.
My mother had a special silver globe with a ballet dancer inside, and faceted mirrors that reflected the ruffles of the tiny tutu.
Sadly, this treasured ornament was lost in a move, and I’m still not sure what happened to it. In the collage, I was able to bring it back. Another lost ornament was my husband’s childhood favorite, a stout little Viking man with a shield and sword. We don’t know what fate befell him. He too makes a come-back in the collage. Since he was lost before my husband and I met, I never saw the Viking, so my drawing is based entirely on Ken’s descriptions and my own imaginative conjecture.
When we were first married, a dear family friend gave us a beautiful set of painted glass ornaments that included characters from The Nutcracker and other Christmas stories. These became very special to us. We had gone to see The Nutcracker performed by the San Francisco Ballet on Christmas Eve of 1999, the day before my husband proposed to me. I remember that experience each time I hang Clara, the Nutcracker, and the Mouse King on the tree. Another favorite from this same ornament set is a kindly Santa Claus wearing an elegant red cape and holding an evergreen garland. He’s one of the larger ornaments and always gets a prominent place on the front of the tree.
I asked my nine-year old son to pick out his favorite ornament so I could include it in the collage. He chose the bendable beaded candy canes which are fun and flexible, easy to hang, and impossible to break. A wonderful choice! He can enjoy these for many years to come.
The practice of drawing the ornaments was very painstaking. I fell deep into the process of observing every detail, noticing both the perfection and the flaws, the sparkly sheen and the dulling of age. Some are quite fragile, or near falling apart. Some will break one day in the future. Creating the collage was a way for me to preserve the ornaments and the halo of memory that surrounds each one. At the same time, there is something about loving them fully and completely through the process of drawing that will allow me to let go when the time comes.