By Sharon Sullivan
Colorado residents handcrafted approximately 10,000 Christmas ornaments destined for Washington, D.C. this coming holiday season. Nearly 200 of those ornaments were made in Grand Junction by individuals with physical or developmental disabilities. The ornaments will decorate trees that originated from Colorado – the majestic Englemann spruce tree to be placed on the U.S. Capital lawn, as well as 70 smaller Christmas trees for the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, and other federal offices throughout the city.
STRiVE, a Grand Junction-based nonprofit that serves disabled individuals and their families offers vocational enrichment programs – like Coffee Klatch and Performing Arts where individuals learn skills and exercise their creativity. This year, Western Colorado Center for the Arts (The Art Center) invited the two programs to participate in making the ornaments for the nation’s Capital.
The Christmas trees were harvested from the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests. It’s the fourth Christmas tree from Colorado since the tradition began 50 years ago.
“It’s considered a gift from the state,” said GMUGNF executive assistant Cande Read, who contacted The Art Center about making the Christmas ornaments. “Citizens from all walks of life,” including children and the elderly, contributed ornaments, Read said.
STRiVE vocational program and group home supervisor Casey Gordon and other staff members transport roughly a dozen STRiVE individuals to The Art Center each week to attend art classes taught by Rachel Egelston, the center’s director of Art for All and Youth and Teen program.
Egelston offered the ornament-making opportunity to STRiVE.
Participants wear masks and are seated at least 7-feet apart from one another as a precaution during the pandemic, Gordon said. Colorado requires disabled individuals to maintain a slightly further distance than the typical recommended 6-feet due to the possibility of compromised immune systems of some people in this population, she said.
To make the ornaments Egelston sliced up tree branches to make wooden discs that were then decorated by STRiVE individuals. The artists used tiny brushes and toothpicks to create fine details in the drawings – such as stick figures on skis.
Participants were asked to create ornaments with Colorado themes such as outdoor scenes, bighorn sheep, and the Colorado flag.
“They made ornaments from (materials found) in Colorado and Grand Junction,” Gordon said. “One of our individuals drew a rainbow trout that he caught at Corn Lake.”
While Casey Gordon supervises individuals in the Coffee Klatch program, her sister Peggy Gordon works with more severely disabled individuals in the Performing Arts vocational program that she supervises. Peggy’s group also participated in making ornaments by using toy dinosaurs that they embellished with paint and tiny wreaths placed around their necks. (reflecting the region’s paleontology importance). They also made ornaments resembling peaches (to represent the Grand Valley’s rich fruit-growing industry), and other ornaments.
“They took a lot of pride in what they created,” Casey Gordon said. “They understand.”