Oh Christmas Trees!

By Beacon Staff

I’m not particularly artistic. Whether it be painting, sculpting, or decorating the family Christmas tree, I find my talents fall short of my expectations. By way of history, I decorated my first Christmas tree in December of 1956. I remember it vividly. Our house on N.E. Prescott in Portland, the tree filling about half of our small living room, and my Uncle Jim inquiring as I worked, “So, David, have you been decorating trees for long?”

I remember my modest, yet confident answer, “Nope, this is my first time.” Despite the modesty, I radiated that unfettered sense of confidence and pride that exists only in someone with half a first-grade education and a void for real-world experience. Uncle Jim smiled and gave a little wink as I continued stringing lights, starting at the bottom, then a string at the top, and a string back and forth to fill in the empty spot. A few balls, a handful or two of tinsel, and I was done.
Of course, I found that where you have artists, you also have critics. And I didn’t stand up well to criticism as my mother explained the flaws in my work (like you have to be able to plug the strings into each other, or they won’t light up). I remember feeling misunderstood and unappreciated. Such is the life of an artist.

Fortunately, I found gainful employment in another field and realized that there are other artists more talented, or at least more in tune with mainstream artistic tastes and realities. And, as regards Christmas trees, the results of such talents will be on display, both for observation and for sale, at the Festival of Trees to be held at the Bigfork Museum of Art and History this month. I spoke with Marnie Forbis, the museum director, and DeeDee Cooper, festival chair, about the event.
“The Festival has been going on, in one form or another, since the 1980s,” Marnie said. “In the early years, the museum did it jointly with the Bigfork Theater and it was quite a fancy affair. Elegantly decorated trees were lined up on stage and auctioned off. It was a great fundraiser, both for the museum and the theater, and local residents were able to display beauty in their homes for the season. Then the festival moved to Flathead Valley Community College and became a really big deal, with some area design companies creating truly over-the-top trees. Three years ago, it returned to Bigfork.”

“Since we got it back, we’ve been rebuilding it as the Bigfork event it once was,” Marnie continued. “Each year we collaborate with a local charitable cause. The first year, we sold one tree for $1,800 to benefit a woman with breast cancer. Last year, the ACES kids’ after school program benefitted. This year, the beneficiary will be the Bigfork Children’s Theater.”

“We’ve expanded the concept,” DeeDee added. “In addition to trees, we have garlands, wreathes, centerpieces, and winter-related art. And the focus of the art is more winter than Christmas, which gives the art pieces more useful life. I’m building and painting eight four-foot-tall wooden soldiers. They’ll stand guard at the event and then be auctioned off on the last night.”

Last night? “Yes, the trees and art will be on display for two weeks. Then we’ll have an evening champagne gala with hors d’oeuvres, raffles, and a live auction.”

Some of the trees will be decorated by museum staff and volunteers. DeeDee, who used to do high-budget Christmas decoration as a profession, will decorate a few. “About half of them are donated,” she said. “We never know what we have until the show opens, but we’re expecting a Cook’s Tree decorated with utensils, recipes, and kitchen things; a Wild Montana Christmas tree, with hand-painted ornaments depicting Montana animals; and one of the trees will be decorated with edible ornaments.”

The Bigfork Festival of Trees opens Nov. 8 and continues through Nov. 21. Then, on the 22nd, there’ll be that gala from 6 to 8 p.m., with the live auction at 7:30. For more information, see the museum’s website at BigforkMuseum.org or visit the museum at 525 Electric Avenue in Bigfork. Donations of trees and seasonal art are welcome. There should be room because I’m not decorating a tree.

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