Slice of Life

Everson Museum’s Festival of Trees brings out creativity in Syracuse community

Wasim Ahmad | Contributing Photographer

The Festival of Trees is one of The Everson Museum of Art's biggest fundraiser every year.

The Everson Museum of Art is known for just that — art. Paintings, sculptures and artifacts line its walls and fill glasses cases throughout the downtown Museum. But this weekend, something else will dominate the discussion at the Everson: Christmas trees.

The museum’s 31st annual Festival of Trees will kick off Thursday night with a preview gala and spans more than a week, ending on Dec. 11. The festival, one of the Everson’s biggest fundraising efforts of the year, features more than 100 decorated Christmas trees, wreaths and other decorations available for purchase throughout the 10-day period. Other events during the festival include the Teddy Bear Tea, a luncheon and fashion show, and two Santa Saturdays.

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Kiran Ramsey | Digital Design Editor

Pattie Miller is in charge of making it all come together. Part of the museum’s members council, she helped organize the event in 2015. She loved the experience so much that, when asked to head the festival this year, she accepted the challenge.

She joked that the job was a just a way to cope with her husband’s decision to not allow any more trees in their house. But it’s a job she takes seriously.

“My sense is that there are people and families who are hungry to do things that bring them into some kind of holiday experience, that offer them some kind aesthetic experience that they can share with their children,” Miller said.

Wasim Ahmad | Contributing Photographer

The first and most important part of the job was bringing in the trees. They’re mostly donated by a range of people and groups from the community: artists, businesses, guilds and other organizations.

“One of those things I think that we’re seeing over and over and over again is how much local businesses, really — in these kinds of events — are truly friends. They’re the ones who you can kind of go to and they deliver,” Miller said.

To get the trees, Miller needed donors and a team. She began forming the committees that would make the festival come to life. One committee is focused on tree solicitation. Then there are committees for each of the events that take place during the festival. It has been a cohesive effort that will result in what festivalgoers — of which there were roughly 7,000 of last year — will experience once they stroll through the museum.

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Kiran Ramsey | Digital Design Editor

Trees come in all shapes and sizes and are scattered around the museum. Some are more traditional, like “Chalk it Up for Christmas” donated by Whistletop Florist — a smaller tree with red ribbon and black and white ornaments. Or “Who’s Your Santa?” decorated by Columbia Presbyterian Church’s God’s Girlz group, which is loaded with dozens of Santa Claus ornaments.

But then there are the trees that really stand out — like the tree donated by Chuck Hafner’s Farmers Market & Garden Center. It sits in the middle of museum’s sculpture court, elevated by two wooden pallets. The craftsmanship is visible in birds and other ornaments snipped out of sheet music that rest on the tree’s branches. The tree is also decked with small wooden discs with etches of snowflakes, pinecones and other seasonal symbols burned into them.

Hafner’s tree also features decorations reminiscent Syracuse landmarks — something that corresponds with the festival’s theme for this year, “City Lights.” Miller said they decided on that theme partially because they were inspired by the revival of Hotel Syracuse, and because they see the Everson as a major player in revitalizing downtown.

Heading downstairs, visitors can find more kid-friendly trees. There’s one made entirely of balloons featuring Olaf the snowman from Disney’s “Frozen.” Another, made by The Syracuse Federation of Women’s Clubs, protrudes from a pop-up train.

Maybe the most artistic take on a tree comes from Chuck Laman, a tour guide at the museum. At first glance, his tree looks like a carefully balanced formation of rocks. But really it’s a tower of spalted hardwood pieces.

“The idea was to make something fairly dynamic and static at the same time,” Laman said.

Spalted wood features patterns and colors created by fungi, and once he got the wood, Laman dyed it and added mineral oil and wax to preserve its perfect consistency and rich color. He called it “nature’s artwork.”

The shape of the tree is intended to resemble an inukshuk, a tower of rocks made by the Inuit people and other native North American peoples in the Arctic. An inukshuk is constructed for a variety of reasons, but often is used a landmark for navigation in snowy conditions.

Other contributions have deeper meaning as well. Women Transcending Boundaries, a group founded by a Christian woman and a Muslim woman in Syracuse after 9/11, has donated a wreath that represents the 26 countries that refugees in Onondaga County came from last year.

An ornament and each country’s flag line the outside of a wreath, while the center contains a newspaper clip detailing the refugees’ countries of origin. Betty Lamb, president of Women Transcending Boundaries, said they plan to add an American flag bow as a finishing touch.

At its core, the Festival of Trees is a fundraising event in which a tree can sell for anywhere between $50 and $600, and sometimes even more than $1,000. But the festival doubles as a chance for the community to come together through creativity. Groups can spread holiday cheer while spreading their message, and Miller said that is what she truly appreciates about the whole festival.

“The Everson Museum is a cultural cornerstone of this community and anything we can do to help it grow and thrive is important,” she said.

Wasim Ahmad | Contributing Photographer

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