Nov 21st, 2012

Kid-Decorated Trees at Dominion GardenFest of Lights are a Win-Win!

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator,  Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden 
It’s easy to get in the holiday spirit when you work at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. With our desire to make Dominion GardenFest of Lights even better than the year before — each year — we sometimes  get a little over-the-top when it comes holiday decorating.    Walk to a staff meeting, for instance, and you might just come across one of the most original and artsy trees you’ve ever seen.  Well, that’s what happened to me last week.  Our Children’s Garden staff was busy putting up the  annual display of  trees created by art students in Henrico County Public Schools  in the Education & Library Complex.  Two of the trees struck me as super-creative. Actually, I have to confess — there were only a few trees that were up decorated when I walked by, but they were two of the most lovely child-decorated trees I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many over the years.

Origami butterfly art

The first one was covered in colorful origami cranes and butterflies. I love how the tree tied into BOTH the Butterflies LIVE! exhibit AND the East Meets West theme of this year’s Dominion GardenFest of Lights.  The origami was clipped to the branches with miniature clothes pins. Each one, was carefully folded & placed.  This tree was created by the children of Springfield Park Elementary School with the help of art teacher Ashley Cogbill.

The second tree was filled with teal and royal blue peacocks! You could tell each child had created their own spin on the magic creature.  This tree was created by Cheryl Hart’s 4th grade class at Echo Lake under the guidance of Echo Lake Elementary School’s Art Teacher, Merle James.
I emailed James to ask her about how she inspired the kids and helped them through the artistic process.  To be honest, I had no idea how much detail and planning went into creating such brilliant art.  She was so charismatic in her reply, I wanted to share it with you.

 Yippy! We had a ball creating it!….This is the third time Echo Lake has been fortunate to decorate one of the trees. As an art teacher and local artist, I am always trying to integrate creative ways to recycle items and transform them into works of art. Each year we have decorated a tree, I have tried to incorporate this idea. 

The process of our peacock themed tree went something like this:

*First we brainstormed as a group, anything they could come up with that had to do with China or Japan. We then narrowed it down to something one might find in an Eastern garden or even something one might do in an Eastern Garden, such as eat Chinese food!!!! ha ha. We were really stretching out thoughts outside the box!

*We went round and round for a while…and finally peacocks were brought into the picture. They were beautiful, colorful and eye-catching for sure. 

* The tree topper is made from a cornucopia basket painted blue. A plastic chest game piece helps to form the face and and old piece of jewelry, some wires and beads adorn the head of the bird. The peacock’s feather ‘eyes’ on the basket body were made by the students from paper, paint and then glittered. With a little help from a glue gun….presto, we have our tree topper.

*I brought in 3 different colored ribbons to serve as a tail that would wrap around the tree. The students worked in groups to create all the eyes for each glittered ribbon tail.

*The ornaments were carefully rendered on watercolor paper. We used colored copied images of peacocks as our inspiration. The students looked at the photographs to help them draw the peacocks. I love how each student interpreted their version of a peacock. I told them to make it as colorful as possible and focus on the details. They drew the images with a pencil, then traced their lines with an extra fine sharpie marker .Lastly eager paintbrushes dipped in watercolor paint, danced on the paper and left quite an impression!

* Since the painted images were round, I decided to use colorful and inexpensive paper plates to serve as a frame. The students added lots of glitz to the frames, which made them sparkle. I think they are beautiful! I am so proud of these students. After teaching art in Henrico County for 22 years, I can honestly say that the creative spirit of my students keeps me fueled everyday! Their excitement to learn encourages my own ‘child like’ spirit to shine, even at the ripe old age of 51!  

Children who create art for the trees also get a free ticket to the Dominion GardenFest of Light display.

Kelly Riley, Children’s Education Coordinator at the Garden, who organizes the exhibit says, “The students enjoy creating the pieces and experiencing the finished product during their visit to Dominion GardenFest of Lights.  The joy spreads to all who view the art work.  The work of these young artists is bright, bold and uninhibited warming the hearts of all who pass by.  It really is a win-win situation for everybody. ”

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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