Ornament ends up on executive branch

Melissa Hebert
Plain Dealer Reporter

Posted on Thursday, December 23, 2004

It's been quite a year for Barbara Franzreb.

First, the Macedonia woman was named one of the top 200 traditional craftspeople in the country because of her decorative painting by Early American Life magazine, a Shaker Heights-based magazine on period style.

Then, a few weeks ago, she attended a White House reception to see an ornament she painted displayed on the White House Christmas tree. She also met first lady Laura Bush.

Franzreb's trip to Washington began in the summer, when she saw a piece in the magazine for the Society of Decorative Painters offering a chance to paint an ornament for the White House Christmas tree. Five-hundred ornaments were available, and 350 would be selected for the tree.

Franzreb received the ornament in August, the same month she was mentioned in Early American Life.

The tin ornament looks like a sleigh bell and is a little larger than a softball. As Franzreb studied it, she began working out a winter scene with houses, a church and a night sky to work with the star cutouts in the upper half of the bell. Then she read the fine print. The ornament had to fit this year's theme for the White House tree - "A Season of Merriment and Melody." The background had to be a vibrant color, and the only decoration could be strokework - the application of paint with a brush - in gold paint. So much for her original idea.

However, new ideas opened up. Her strokework is a big reason for her success. She went back to her pattern books, including some she created for sale. From those, she came up with a pattern with a rich red background.

She didn't have a lot of time to dawdle. The deadline for submitting the ornament was Sept. 15, and with her other responsibilities, including teaching decorative painting, she couldn't devote herself full time to the project. So she did what she does best - came up with a basic plan and let it evolve.

"It ended up having more strokework detail than I originally planned," Franzreb said. The strokework roses on the bottom were Franzreb's favorite detail.

Franzreb shipped the ornament in early September and waited to hear the results. And waited. And waited.

"I was starting to get nervous," she said. "I belong to an online group for decorative painters, and people were announcing that their ornament had been selected. That's how I found out about the painters being invited to the White House to see the tree. That was exciting, but I wasn't hearing anything one way or the other about mine."

Three weeks before the scheduled reception, Franzreb received her invitation. It turned it had been addressed with the wrong ZIP code, hence the delay. Franzreb promptly called everyone she could think to call and began making travel plans.

At the reception, Franzreb had to tilt her head way back to see her ornament - it's about 20 feet up the tree. The Blue Room, where the tree is, was "like fairyland," Franzreb said. "Trees and lights were everywhere."

But the most exciting part of the day is a bit of a blur for Franzreb. She was with a friend who was using a wheelchair that day, and they went to inquire if they could park it in a corner to go through the buffet line. The next thing she knows, they're being whisked to the front of the receiving line to meet Laura Bush.

"I had no time to prepare anything to say to her," Franzreb said. "She was very gracious, but I don't remember a thing I said to her."

Seeing her ornament as part of a White House Christmas is a high point in her 20 years of decorative painting. While she does florals and creates her own designs at her home business, The Calico Goose, her favorite work is Early American anything. She mostly paints wood but loves working with tin. The piece featured in Early American Life is a tin box made by friend Carl Giordano.

Franzreb sells her work online, at craft shows, Ohio Mart at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron, Primitive Keepings in Medina, Yellow Creek Trading Co. in Peninsula and Colonial Williamsburg, Va.

She normally spends about 20 hours a week painting, including time in her classes.

"If I don't do it for a few days, I get edgy," she said. "It's relaxing and therapeutic for me."

She also enjoys the classes she teaches. Many of her students have been coming for years, and there's a social aspect to the class.

"We solve all the world's problems during class," she said. "It's really a good time."

2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

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