Local Artisans “Deck Their Halls” with Handcrafted Décor
by Nancy E. McCarthy
My mother was an accomplished artist and mastered a wide variety of media. She was creative and crafty with Christmas decorations, too. I still have her handmade ornaments constructed from cardboard egg container sections (painted, glittered and glued together with decorative bric-a-brac) and her gorgeous papier-mâché nativity figures replete with the Holy Family, three kings, and even farm animals. They are treasured family heirlooms.
Artists always have the best holiday décor! Here’s a peek into the bedecked homes of a few Finger Lakes artisans. Meet the makers and see their unique handcrafted creations, from tabletop decorations to wreaths to ornaments and more.
Canandaigua craftsman Bob Beck started carving wooden Santas in 2001. The decorative tabletop Santas (and later, snowmen) were made for his wife Jeanne and as Christmas gifts for other family members. After a 2017 cruise, Beck was inspired by Scandinavian folklore to create Nordic Santa gnomes and last year added snow women and children to the mix. All are made from blocks of basswood, a hardwood species ideal for carving. Each takes 4-10 hours to complete, depending on its size and fine details. Beck traces his hand-drawn sketches onto the wood and uses Warren carving knives with interchangeable blades to whittle down the blocks into forms. He paints them with oil and acrylics. Last year, Jeanne, a mixed media artist, began selling the festive figures from her studio during the holiday season. They will be available again this year from November 1 – December 24 at Jeanne Beck Art Gallery & Studio, 154 Mill Street, Canandaigua. jeannebeck.com
Pam Hobart had been making her own Christmas wreaths for many years, but just started selling them two years ago from her Rushville home. This year, Bodine’s Tree Farm in Canandaigua, a supplier of her greenery, will carry her wreaths, too. The crafter combines fresh branches with dried flowers foraged from her garden and local fields, woods, and farms. Recently, she began growing and drying more flowers, which inspired her to create year-round dried floral wreaths. To make the Christmas wreaths, Hobart gathers a generous handful of mixed greenery as if making a bouquet and then, to add interest, integrates red twig dogwood, rose hips, or dried buds from various perennials. She attaches these in bunches to a metal form. Using clamps, wire, or glue, Hobart overlaps them one at a time, while adjusting scale, symmetry, texture, and color. Each wreath takes about an hour to an-hour-and-a-half to finish. “None of the wreaths I make are the same,” says Hobart. “I tend to keep them rather whimsical and untamed in appearance.” The Christmas wreaths can last 2-3 months outdoors, or 2-4 weeks in a cool spot inside. Hobart is hosting an open house Christmas wreath sale from her home on November 21 and 22 from 11-4 pm. For more details, contact her at email@example.com. Follow her on Instagram
Tom MacAllister retired in 2012 and turned his passion for woodworking into a second career. A self-described “creator,” MacAllister designed much of his contemporary rustic home in Naples and filled it with his own furnishings and decorative pieces. During the holidays, the family Christmas tree sparkles with handcrafted wooden ornaments. In 2018, MacAllister made his wife Angela a special set of spalted maple ornaments with a handsome matching storage box. Spalting is the precursor of decay that produces natural patterns of contrasting lines and streaks in the wood. For these ornaments, he cut out triangles and attached them with dowels, slightly apart. On one side, the spalted patina was coated with clear epoxy, while the other side was decorated with brass tacks to resemble star constellations. MacAllister repurposed copper wire for hangers that fold into the ornament when stored. His entire creative process takes place on his expansive 500-acre property, starting with finding the right tree, cutting it down, milling it, and making the final pieces. For a studio tour appointment, contact MacAllister at 585-202-2019 or visit macs-woods.com.
Artisan soap maker Joanne Schwallie founded Ravenwyne Mercantile, inspired by her love of aromatherapy, artistry, and chemistry. Schwallie spent 2015 creating and testing vegan bath and body products in her home studio in Greece, and began to sell them in 2016. She makes sumptuous artisan soaps, exfoliating and moisturizing whipped soap polish, and nourishing lotions by hand in small batches. Bar soap is her best-seller, and the most popular fragrance is Wineberry (scented with concord grapes, currants, sweet berries, and a touch of vanilla). Seasonal holiday scents include Winter Solstice and Gingerbread Whiskey. “It’s not just a bar of soap, it’s a fragrant piece of art,” says Schwallie, who sells through her website and at various retail locations in the region. Visit ravenwynemercantile.com for more information.
O Christmas Tree
Custom picture framer and artist Lauren Hirsh started making Christmas trees for mantle and shelf display from wood scraps last year. She sold them during her annual holiday pop-up show. “They were a big hit,” says Hirsh. “I couldn’t make them fast enough to keep up with demand.” She makes two styles, and both vary in size. Her bestsellers are straight triangle trees with a sleek, modern look. For that, Hirsh glues scraps of wood in a random design onto plywood and uses a sliding miter saw to cut out triangular shapes. She then trims the sides and adds a small base for a stump. The other tree style is made from picture frame molding strips attached to a post from smallest on top to largest at the base to form the familiar outline of a traditional Christmas tree. Lauren Hirsh Custom Framing is housed in Hirsh’s home studio at 18 West Avenue in Naples. In addition to framing services and the trees, she makes geometric mosaic wall hangings, shadow boxes, and collages using the abundance of leftover framing materials, plus reclaimed wood finds. Hirsh plans to host a pandemic-appropriate holiday pop-up show along with other artists and vendors at Divine Designs Salon in Naples on 11/27, 12/5, 12/12 and 12/19. Visit laurenhirshframing.com or contact the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Deck the Walls
For many years, still life artist Pat Tribastone of Perinton has been making holiday-themed paintings. Tribastone selects a new one each year to feature as an image for her Christmas cards. Friends and family look forward to seeing what she will create next. “Then I began to sell the paintings, as people could decorate their home for Christmas with an original painting,” Tribastone explains. Switching out paintings is a clever way to keep an interior landscape fresh and, in this case, seasonal. Tribastone draws inspiration from identifying a single object of interest and then adding other complementary articles for her arrangement, keeping in mind an overall color scheme. She sketches the composed objects onto canvas and then begins painting, in pastels or oil, starting with the background first. Even though Christmas cards are becoming less popular, Tribastone continues to create her Christmas paintings. “I just enjoy doing them so much,” she says. View the artist’s work at P. Tribastone Fine Art Gallery in Canandaigua, or visit patriciatribastoneart.com. Tribastone’s Christmas paintings will be part of an Oxford Gallery holiday exhibit in Rochester. More information at oxfordgallery.com.