ArtFul Living

St. Louis Area Fine Arts, Crafts & Performing Arts
Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky, Arts Editor

So It’s December!

Maybe the busiest month of the year as we prepare for holiday celebrations, family gatherings, shopping, cooking, end-of-year “stuff to finish,” etc., etc. My ARTful Happenings calendar, viewable online at www.TheHealthyPlanet.com.

There a myriad of ARTful holiday happenings to enjoy this month. They’ll definitely make the season merry and bright! A few deserve special mention:
Jazz St. Louis launches its new monthly book club, hosted by Dr. Gerald Early, Merle King Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University. The book club meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in Nancy’s Jazz Lounge at the Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz, 3536 Washington. It’s free and open to anyone interested in exploring jazz through literature. Sign up for the book club in advance by phoning the Jazz St. Louis box office at 314-571-6001; select each individual month or the entire four-book series. You can also sign up on our website. Although the book club is free, you will be issued a “ticket”, which allows us to track attendance at each session. Books can be purchased anywhere, but the official retail partner, Left Bank Books, offers a 20% discount to club participants.

Stray Dog Theatre presents the wacky BUYER & CELLAR, December 1-17 at Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue (gated parking).

Written by Jonathan Tolins, the play opens when underemployed Los Angeles actor, Alex More, is hired to work in a faux shopping mall created by superstar, Barbra Streisand in the basement of her Malibu home. One day, the Lady Herself comes below to play. It soon feels like real bonding downstairs, but will their relationship ever make it upstairs? Buyer & Cellar is a comedic tour de force, fictionally drawn from fact, which explores the price of fame, the cost of things, and the oddest of odd jobs. Reserve tickets by calling 314-865-1995 or visit www.StrayDogTheatre.org.

Could it even be the holidays without some Bach? If your answer is a resounding, “No!” the Bach Society of Saint Louis presents its annual Christmas Candlelight Concert on December 22 at Powell Hall, 718 N. Grand. The glory of Christmas is celebrated with the buoyant and festive Magnificat by John Rutter, renowned master of the Christmas Carol, featuring soprano soloist Emily Birsan. The second half of the program opens with the beloved Candlelight Processional and includes traditional audience carols with the St. Louis Children’s Choirs, under the direction of Barbara Berner. A. Dennis Sparger as Music Director and Conductor. Reserve tickets for this family holiday event by calling 314-534-1700 or at www.powellhall.com.

A new 90-minute documentary film, ShowMe 66: Main Street Through Missouri, recently premiered at the Missouri History Museum. Equal parts travelogue and historical narrative, Show Me 66: Main Street Through Missouri explores the landscapes and destinations found along Route 66 in the Show Me State. Stories unfold about the fabled route’s birth in Springfield, its relationship to the Ozarks and St. Louis and the attractions, motels, drive-ins and characters discovered along its path. A film trailer is available for viewing at mohistory.org/showme66

Directors Andrew Wanko and Eric Wilkinson traveled to Missouri’s farthest stretches of Route 66, to capture well-known sights and best-kept secrets across the seasons. “The film dives deeper in Missouri’s Route 66 story than any film has before,” said Andrew Wanko, the Missouri History Museum’s Public Historian and one of the film’s directors. “It’s more than just roadside sights and popular nostalgia, the legacy of Route 66 is complex.” Familiar “66” personalities and experts appear in the film to share their Route 66 experiences including Ted Drewes of the iconic Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, Route 66 historian Michael Wallis and historic preservationist Ruth Keenoy, among others.

“The film is a great way for us to expand our reach,” said Jody Sowell, the Missouri History Museum’s Director of Exhibitions and Research. Additionally, an exhibition about Route 66 will be on view at the Museum through July 16, 2017. She continued, “The interest in our Route 66 exhibit shows how hungry people are for the local story of this famous highway, but that exhibition closes in July. The documentary will be shown throughout the state for decades to come.” There’s also a great exhibition, Toys of the ‘50’s, 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, currently on display, so allow extra the kid in you to have extra time in that exhibition while you’re at the Museum.

The Nine Network of Public Media broadcasts ShowMe 66: Main Street Through Missouri on Dec. 1 at 9:30 p.m.; Dec. 4 at 3:30 p.m. and Dec. 6 at 8:30 p.m. DVD and Blu-Ray copies of the documentary will be available for sale in the Gift Shop at the Missouri History Museum (great for holiday gifts!). A film trailer is available for viewing at http://mohistory.org/showme66

The National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
On December 1, President Obama and the First Family light the National Christmas Tree in President’s Park, just behind the White House in Washington, D.C. And I am honored to attend our nation’s 94th Lighting Ceremony.

The National Christmas Tree is a living tree. Surrounding the National Tree are 56 cut trees, representing the 50 states and 6 U.S. Territories (*Can you name the Territories? Answers at the end of this story). Each year, an artist from each of those states and territories is selected to design an ornament to cover each state’s/territory’s tree. It has been my honor and privilege to be the artist that has designed Missouri’s ornaments six times, including this year.

The project actually began some time ago, in summer. When the National Parks Foundation contacted me, I began to plan a design. A very precise schedule must be followed, from the designing to the actual creation and shipment of the ornaments, months in advance of the holiday lighting!

I reverse-glass painted the ornaments, with cotton for snow and faux ice crystals embedded on the inside of the large, plexiglass spheres. Because the trees remain on outdoor display for visitors throughout the holiday season, the finished ornaments must be able to withstand wind, rain, ice, snow and whatever other weather conditions may occur. Having seen the impact of Washington winter weather on the displays firsthand, I know what works!

My design is intended to exemplify the spirit of this season: A large pine tree, covered in fluffy, white snow, reaches upward on one side of the ornament. Around the center of the sphere is a ring of people, silhouetted in the night. They represent a diversity of people, including some in wheelchairs, persons of all sizes in all manners of garb, united in a circle of peace. Among the tiny night stars, one huge, brilliant star illuminates them from above. They stand on a delicate icy surface, symbolizing the fragility of the earth, with green dots below to symbolize the earth itself, which supports all humanity. At the top of the sphere, “Missouri” and “2016” are set into sparkling ice crystals. Below the circle of humanity is the hope for this season and always, “Peace on Earth, Good Will to All.” The night sky depicted on the ornament is deep metallic blue.

I’ve worked with school students from throughout the state to produce the Missouri ornaments in previous years. This year, however, I was given an option to do the work alone or to select a group to work with me. I wanted to honor women this year, to each have a hand in the ornament project. These women represent a diversity of inspiration, experience and backgrounds. One of these wonderful women is 100 years old: the inspiration for this year is Lois Miller, born the same year that National Parks Foundation was founded! The birthdates of the “Senior Ladies” span six decades (the women were in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 100!!). Working on these ornaments with them was such fun, as we shared time, stories and laughter together.

These women embody the calm and dignified beauty of this season. I feel privileged to have shared this project with them and our time together remains a treasured memory.

The show, featuring entertainers James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson, Yolanda Adams and Chance the Rapper, will be broadcast on the Hallmark Channel on Monday, December 5 or online on demand after December 1 at thenationaltree.org/watch-the-lighting/
(If you’re reading this after December 1, check local listings for rebroadcast of the lighting event).

When the ornaments are removed from the trees in January, they become the property of the National Parks Foundation. In coming years, some of these ornaments are used in National Park displays throughout the U.S., in veterans’ hospitals and facilities, and even for holiday displays in U.S. military bases and installations around the world.

To each and every reader of ARTful Living, I wish you a peace-filled holiday season.

*ANSWER: The U.S. Territories are: Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Virgin Islands, and District of Columbia.