Corcoran professor Robert Devers on decorating your home with greenery

November 9, 2011

When Robert Devers decorates his home for the holidays, one Christmas tree is not enough. “I like multiple pairs” of tabletop trees, says Devers, an assistant professor of fine arts at the Corcoran College of Art and Design . “I always try to do a variety of them.”

He has an unconventional approach to decorating them, too. He prefers to hang fruit, such as sugar encrusted plums or cherries, instead of, say, plastic reindeer. This approach to holiday decorating “forces you to be a little more eclectic,” he says.

Devers, a judge in The Post’s 2011 Holiday Crafts Contest, has spent most of his adult life designing decorative pieces that can liven a home for the holidays, or any season. Ceramics is his favorite kind of art. He studied it at the Kansas City Art Institute and continues to be inspired from it, even after 24 years of exposure to different media while at the Corcoran.

“I do sculpture. I do tiles. I do installation. I do vessels,” says the Rockville resident. “The full range of what ceramics can be, I embrace.” Locals can make a quick trip to the Renwick Gallery to see his work or travel as far as Portugal to see it in the Museo Manuel Cargaleiro.

We recently spoke with him about easy projects for less-experienced crafters, unexpected places to find art supplies and how to make a wreath stand out. Here are edited excerpts.


Robert Devers, judge for the 2011 Holiday Crafts Contest in Local Living, is an assistant professor of fine arts at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. (From Robert Devers)

What is a simple project for less-experienced crafters?

You’re basically going to make herb spheres using Styrofoam balls and wood glue. Get basic kitchen herbs: basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and black pepper or red pepper flakes. Paint the wood glue onto the Styrofoam balls. Then you can sprinkle the herbs on top. Display them in a glass bowl or a glass cylinder and they scent the room.

What are some ways to incorporate a wreath into a holiday display?

You can create a little tree out of stacking wreaths. You need three, four or five descending sizes to do that. The top is the ball, just a sphere or another kind of ornament.

If you have a wreath that you’re using as a centerpiece on a table, and if your table is longer and you want to extend the decorative element, you can use the same branches, smaller bundles of them, and put them in vases.

What are some crafts that are easy for kids to make?

The collaging of old holiday cards. You would collage them onto containers [such as] old glass vases or bottles. Basically you would completely cover these big containers so that you wouldn’t see them in the end.

[Or making] garland. You would just use a variety of string, twine, rope and raffia. You could tie any number of things. Each time you’re moving down the garland you can add things: small branches, colored ribbons, little bells, herb bundles, pine cones, sugar covered fruits.

Let them decide the order, how long, etc.

Where are your favorite places to shop for art supplies?

For crafts I’ve gotten a lot of great things from a place called Restore. Habitat for Humanity runs it. It’s a place for any construction job to put the tiles that are leftover. They sell sinks, kitchen cabinets, odds and ends of different construction materials. I go there for the ceramic tiles.

The Dollar Store has amazingly cheap decorative items that you can then re-contextualize. Take a bunch of odd things that they might have in their ornament aisle and then just reassemble them as one solid thing. Just put them together and make a sculpture.

Tuesday Morning has two aisles of craft supplies, things you would never see anywhere else: large sorts of Asian brushes with precious stone handles. It’s always changing. They don’t have any regular products. It’s something discontinued coming in so you’d never see it twice.

Which handmade holiday decorations also make good gifts?

Handmade cookies are always a nice gift.

What is the most important advice every crafter should know before starting a new project?

Less is more. Let the essence of the material be the element.

2011 Holiday Crafts Contest

Do you have a knack for making holiday decorations? Enter our Holiday Crafts Contest. Go to washingtonpost.com/holidaycrafts to get contest details and upload photos of your handmade creation. It can be sewn, woven, knitted, molded with plain paper or papier-mache, or created with any materials you like. Include your name, phone number and e-mail address with your submission. Contact information will not be displayed online. The grand prize winner will receive a $200 American Express gift card.

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