Creating Christmas Ornaments And Memories To Treasure In Ferguson

By Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky
Healthy Planet Arts Editor

It was an ordinary day in late September when I received an email… from an assistant in the Missouri Governor’s Office, asking me to design Missouri’s ornaments for the National Christmas Tree display in Washington, D.C. this holiday season.

It’s the fourth time I’ve been asked to take on this project — an honor of incredible proportions—unexpected, to be sure. As “the” artist, I would design and make an original ornament, and then work with a school, also selected by Governor Nixon, with the students replicating my design on many more ornaments (It’s a big tree to decorate!). The school had not yet been determined, I was told. In past years, I’ve worked with schools as far away as Joplin, so I had no idea where I’d be heading for this year’s project.

A few weeks later, I was notified that the school had been selected, based on a directive from the White House: McCluer South-Berkeley High School, in Ferguson.

I pondered the design for a long time. It needed to incorporate symbols of the holiday season in our state, as well as some reference to a National Park Foundation site in our state, since NPF hosts the National Christmas Tree display in President’s Park (the “backyard” of the White House). I wanted the piece to be meaningful. After throwing a lot of sketches in the recycle bin, I finally completed my design work, made the original piece and organized plans to go to the school.

It might be natural to select only the best art students to work on a project of this level but I designed the work in multiple stages to give many, many students a hand in the project. I think it’s important that as many students as possible get to work on the pieces, especially those who may never again have such an opportunity. Imagine, if you will, to always be able to say, “Once I worked on a project that was displayed in Washington, D.C. where thousands and thousands of people saw it.” So, 136 students in McCluer South art classes worked with me to make a lot of ornaments…

The students at McCluer South were awesome. They were so enthused and eager to work on this project, and their work was beautifully done. The faculty and staff were great to work with as well (not many schools would welcome a day’s disruption to regular classes!). The project was completed without a hitch. It was a delightful, fun day for us all, full of paint and glitter and glue and smiles.

As we worked, it was clear that we all shared the same goals for that day: we all knew we were working on something special and we all wanted it be just right. Missouri will be well-represented in Washington as a result of these students’ efforts.

I don’t presume to have any answers to any of the issues that face us these days. Nor do I think that solutions to problems are simple. As this goes to press, many serious concerns face our region. But I do see that there are some things that can bring us together, on common ground. We can all appreciate a fine work of art, a beautiful piece of music. These things inspire us and move us, no matter who we are, or where we are from, or even what holiday we celebrate. The effort to do our best, the effort to work together, the effort to do something beautiful and lasting — these things matter, and touch each of us.

So, in this holiday season, seek out something beautiful. Share it with someone. Make a valuable memory to treasure. That’s what I did this year.

The holiday season in St. Louis offers a calendar-full of ARTful things to see and do. Our online ARTful Happenings calendar can be found at www.TheHealthyPlanet.com. It offers an easy-to-access listing of everything going on in St. Louis this month. Take the kids; take the visiting relatives or friends; take a date or spouse, or just yourself to any of the wonderful exhibitions and events to make this holiday season a very special ARTful season!