Handmade ornaments follow tree to nation’s Capitol
ARVADA, Colo. — Thousands of ornaments, many of them made by Colorado schoolchildren, have accompanied the majestic Engelmann spruce sent to Washington to grace the lawn of the U.S. Capitol building this Christmas.
The 73-foot tree is from the White River National Forest in northwestern Colorado. After it’s lit Tuesday, many of the ornaments will be on public view; others will adorn the nearly 70 smaller trees, also from Colorado, that will decorate government office buildings throughout Washington.
When Colorado residents were asked to craft ornaments for the trees, they responded enthusiastically: Nearly 10,000 ornaments poured into the U.S. Forest Service office in Meeker, where Mary Cunningham coordinated the campaign. She had needed only about half that number, but starting in early September, “it got crazy,” she says. “For two weeks we were getting 20 to 30 huge boxes each day of ornaments.”
Ornaments arrived from every corner of the state. The theme was “Celebrating Our Great Outdoors,” and it inspired ornaments featuring skiing, hiking and fishing; mountain scenes and blue spruce trees; Western attire, from cowboy boots to moccasins; and bears, bison, wolves and moose.
Liberty High School’s Art Club and National Honor Society in Colorado Springs contributed 50 small clay pots and baskets crafted from area clay. Students at another Colorado Springs school, Discovery Canyon Campus, were challenged by teachers to use recycled materials, so they made an airplane out of a soda can, a hiking boot from soda pop tabs, and horses made from wine corks, among other ornaments.
From Mount Garfield Middle School in Clifton came more than 100 painted ornaments, including jumping trout, cut from plywood in a technical education class. The teacher, Kevin Elisha, drove the ornaments nearly two hours from Clifton to Cunningham’s home in Meeker.
“He kept pulling out individual ones and telling me about the kid,” Cunningham remembers. “It was just really neat the time and thought they put into it.”
She also tells of a Hamilton man, Ray Durham, who donated 1,200 large Aspen slices, or disks, so every kid in the area’s school district could make an ornament.
While the bulk of ornaments came from schools and scouting groups, three Ute tribes — the Northern Utes, Southern Utes and Ute Mountain Utes — provided a combined 800 ornaments. Northern Ute elders created more than 100 small “cradleboards” — a traditional means of carrying swaddled babies — from fabric and poster board, then hand-stitched each one, says Pearleen Ridley, director of the tribe’s Senior Citizen Program at Fort Duchesne, in northeastern Utah.
A small group of elders “were really dedicated,” Ridley says. “They came in at 8:30 and didn’t leave until 4:00. They were here every day for two weeks.”
The tribe’s ancestors roamed the White River National Forest, says Ridley.
“We’re very appreciative that we’re representing who and where our people came from,” she says.
In a tradition dating to 1970, the state from which the Capitol Christmas tree comes also donates the ornament. This is the third time that Colorado has been asked; the last time was in 2000, when the tree came from the San Isabel National Forest, in central Colorado.
That year, one of the companion trees came from the Winkelman Farm in Limon. The next spring, owners Steve and Kathy Winkelman were given a seedling from the millennium Capitol Christmas tree. They planted it, nurtured it and now, 12 years later, the tree is 6 feet tall.
Kathy Winkelman and her teaching partner, Cindy Stone, took their Limon Elementary School fourth-grade students to see the community’s “millennium tree,” as they call it, and gathered pine cones from nearby to make ornaments — skiers and snowboarders — for this year’s Capitol trees.
“We suffered a severe hailstorm in June of 2003, which destroyed all of our wheat and feed crops and a large part of our tree farm,” the class’ submission form read. “But our little millennium tree survived ….”
The teachers and students tracked the progress of the Capitol Christmas tree online during its three-week road trip to the nation’s capital, learning about geography, history and the federal government along the way.
“We’re small-town USA,” Stone says. “Many of these kids don’t get out of Colorado, ever. The idea that something they made might be in the nation’s capital, that’s really cool.”