By Konstantine Fekos
Necktie angels, pearl poinsettias and candy-covered presents are just a few of the hundreds of hand-made ornaments hanging gingerly on the soft-nettle boughs of this year’s Trees of Christmas tour, aptly themed “Deck the Halls.”
Members of the Meadville Garden Club let heaven and nature sing loud and clear throughout the 18th century walls of the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum, with a tree in every room and elegant decorations made from recycled materials that surprised even the event’s coordinators.
After more than 20 years of involvement in the organization, Garden Club President Rhonda Sippy is still amazed that all the ideas and decorations are as fresh as the trees.
“I’m stunned by how much of the material is recycled,” said Sippy. “So much is re-used.”
With the vast percentage of items handmade and the majority of costs out of pocket for club members, these ladies make sure everything is as cost-effective as it is eye-catching.
“Every year I say ‘this is the best ever,’ and now I say they’ve done it again,” said Sandee Mook, Garden Club representative and past president. “The things our members come up with always amaze me.”
The attention to detail is just as striking as the big picture, down to the glittering white-tipped pine cones arranged in the solarium atop a twig and leaf-laden birdbath, complete with carved, crimson cardinals.
“We either used natural things from nature or recycled items,” said Mook. “I think it worked out wonderfully.”
The 7,000 or so people who come to see the trees at this biannual event also get their share of amazement with original decor ideas for every room of the two-story house, Mook added.
It’s hard to argue after seeing countless paper roses made from donated sheet music lining the back parlor tree and packages piled in the dining room and law library, wrapped in fabrics ranging from the scraps of old shirts to the pages of antique law books, all dressed to look as intricate and ornate as the museum itself.
Additionally, it’s hard to believe that while planning for this event begins about a year and a half ahead of time, approximately 50 Garden Club members and volunteers descend on the house and deck every hall about five days before opening the doors.
“The trees were delivered last Friday,” said Joanne Ende, Trees of Christmas co-chair, who explained that the trees are picked out and tagged at Carroll’s Nursery every year around September or October. “Saturday morning, all the women descended on the house.”
“We could never have it every year,” echoed fellow Co-chair Mary Gurney. “It’s just a lot of work.”
Following a wrap-up meeting in January, Garden Club members take about two months off before selecting chairpersons and a theme, already brainstorming for the following year.
By the end of the summer, more than a year before the next show, designated decorators have their rooms picked out.
“We have to start early because so much is hand-crafted and there’s so much area to cover,” said Ende, applauding the group effort and volunteerism of club members. “We have fun doing it and we do it to benefit the house.”
In tune with the spirit of giving, the Garden Club directs all proceeds to the upkeep of the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum. Local individuals and area businesses help sponsor and donate to the cause every year to help cover costs and keep the Trees of Christmas alive and well.
While a $5 or less door fee and generous community donations help, sometimes it takes more to push an antique house forward through time, which leads this report to the basement floor.
“Downstairs is the Boutique, which used to be the kitchen and food storage area of the house,” said Mook. “There’s a lot to buy down here.”
The Garden Club keeps the spirit of these rooms intact with shelves of spices and baskets of baking products. Anyone looking to get on Santa’s good side can find pre-mixed jars of cookie and cocoa ingredients.
The Boutique’s walls are covered with a bevy of crafts and consignments, mostly local, almost all handmade, ranging from pillows to jewelry to clothing and a variety of items and trinkets in-between.
Needless to say, the Garden Club members are ecstatic about the brand-new ability to take credit card purchases downstairs.
“We try to keep the Trees of Christmas cheap for the community while still raising money for the house,” said Patty Apel, former Trees chairperson.
Also featured in the Boutique is a craft room where children of all ages can create their own ornament in a supervised environment while their parents peruse the wares.
Children can also participate in an ornament hunt involving just about every tree in the house, where they can find themed ornaments hand-picked by the club members which will be sold later at the Boutique.
Whether your tastes are antique like the zippers formed into ornaments on the second floor, or artistic like the pine tree homage to the Nutcracker Suite in the next room, the Garden Club believes there’s something for just about everyone to enjoy and admire in the museum’s positively decked-out halls.
YOU CAN GO
Trees of Christmas opens this weekend at Meadville’s Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum. Entry fee is $5 for adults and $2 for students and children. The show runs from noon to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday and Nov. 23 through 25. The museum is located at 638 Terrace St.