OUTSIDE MAY be revolt, bankruptcy, strike and riots, but inside the Blue Room of the White House this year, the Peaceable Kingdom will reign on the White House tree.
Beginning Tuesday, the public can see the decorations on the regular 10 to noon tours, Tuesday through Saturday. On Dec. 29 and 30, the house will be open to the public from 6 to 8 p.m. for candlelight tours. For these free tours, visitors line up at the East Gate of the White House; no reservation is necessary.
The White House will be closed Christmas and Dec. 26 as well as New Year's Day. .
Fat pigs, fleet reindeer, soft lambs, regal lions, decorative ducks, crowing roosters and a few other animals hard to define will gambol, waddle, run and prance through the branches of the White House Christmas tree this year.
The animals of the White House menagerie are cut from tin, fabric and wood. Some were painted with sponges dipped in color, others werehand-painted with fantastic faces. The animals recall the legends of Christmas in the stable when all the creatures spoke at midnight to honor the shelter they bestowed on the Christ child. Most of all, according to White House social secretary Muffie Brandon, who planned the display, they bring to mind the Edward Hicks Peaceable Kingdom paintings. In this land all the beasts of forest and farm come together in friendship -- See DECORATIONS, Page 2, Col. 1 DECORATIONS, From Page 1 the lion smiles, the reindeer pauses, and the ducks quake not.
Topping the tree will be the angel Gabriel, copied from a weather vane in the Museum of American Folk Art by David Claggett, a tinsmith in Christiana, Pa. A dollhouse by Aline Koplin, an interior designer in Penn Valley, Pa., will be displayed as well.
Dorothy Temple, the White House florist, is decking the marble halls not only with holly, but also with magnolia leaves interspersed with fat red candles, lotus pods and ribbons on the marble mantels. Some arrangements will be in the famous Biddle vermeil urns.
"Some of the magnolia leaves come from trimmings from the White House's own trees," said Temple. "We buy others from the wholesale flower market. The National Park Service provides us with large trees, poinsettias and such."
Red poinsettias set on a tree frame will be displayed in the foyer, along with paper white narcissus, white cyclamens, and garlands of mixed greens. The windows will have their traditional wreaths with long, red velvet ribbons.
Temple, who owns a florist shop, had been a volunteer working on White House Christmases for 10 years before she became a staff member in April. She commutes to her home and family in Boston.
Thirty seashell wreaths, sprayed with glitter and made by Thomas Levin's fifth-grade class at Cape May City Elementary School, will be assembled into one wreath for the East Wing's ground floor corridor.
The tree's 800 ornaments are handmade by eight American craft artists. Sunny O'Neal, author of "The Gift of Christmas Past" (published by the American Association of State and Local History), is decorating the vice president's tree this year with a cornucopia of late 19th-century ornaments.
"Victorians were enchanted by sachets," said O'Neal, "so I've made satin grapes, bananas, a lace glove -- all filled with fragrances."
O'Neal and her helpers have made other decorations described in her book, including painted walnuts, orange-rind baskets filled with candy, prune men, apple and pine-cone santas, decorated eggs (the insides blown out), pomander balls, paper dolls, cotton santas, gingerbread cookies, popcorn chains and paper fans.
In the last four or five years, the White House tree has become a showcase for American craftspeople. Gretchen Poston, for Rosalynn Carter, commissioned a tree of original art from the Corcoran School of Art students one year, and from the mentally handicapped another year. The first vice presidential tree was decorated by Joan Mondale with original art from the top craft artists in the country.
This season Brandon, in search of "an old-fashioned Christmas," called on Robert Bishop, director of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City. Marie DiManno, manager of the folk museum shop, selected eight craftspeople, "those I knew who were doing animal designs in varying materials." They had only about a month's notice to make the 800 ornaments. Temple was to decorate the tree as well as the rest of the house with help from DiManno.
The Folk Art tree is in keeping with two current trends: handmade objects and country decorating, all caused by a fever of nostalgia, a longing for simpler days that affects many people at this time of year. Even those who are fond of chrome, glass and slick decorating style at Christmas time turn their thoughts to the traditional tree.
Handmade ornaments are not cheap. They usually sell from $5 to $20 each. But then they don't break or burn out -- and they become family heirlooms.
Most of the craft artists come from small towns, where you don't have to go to the zoo to see an animal. The eight are:
Ivan Barnett, from near Stevens, Pa., is well known as a folk sculptor, especially of weather vanes. His hanging tin ornaments will be on the tree. "Each is an original design cut with shears from weathered metal," explained Barnett. "After each animal is cut from the tin, it is flattened and then decorated individually.
"All my small animals are designs adapted from my own larger weather vane sculptures. My inspiration for my work is drawn from my constant closeness to the Lancaster County countryside. My studio is surrounded by beautiful farmland and animals."
Barnett spent a year researching weather vanes and apprenticed to a blacksmith to learn the traditional techniques. He has taught weather vane making at the Smithsonian. His weather vanes have been collected by the Renwick Gallery, the Winterthur and Woodlawn Plantation, among others. Currently he is adapting designs from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection.
Ruth Ann Greenhill of the Decorative Sampler in Milford, Conn., made some of the painted animals. She's studied, taught and practiced Early American art techniques for years: rosemaling, decoupage, stenciling and reserve glass painting.
Sally Sundstrom and Arlene Lawson of Federal Hill Stencilworks, Baltimore, fashion their wooden cutout ornaments after antique weather vanes. They paint them using a spongeware technique. The two artists live in a 19th-century row house on historic Federal Hill, in downtown Baltimore. As the name of their company implies, they stencil interiors, as well as Shaker boxes and greeting cards.
The soft-sculpture lion and lamb and dozens more are the work of Gladys Boalt of Stormville, N.Y. Boalt lives in a 150-year-old farmhouse in Dutchess County with her six children and watercolorist husband.
She became interested in soft sculpture after years of quilting patchwork and applique. "The Gazebo on Madison Avenue, N.Y., asked me to make Christmas ornaments. My first was a little white swan." Boalt says sewing small is the hardest kind of needlework. Despite this, she makes all kinds of soft-sculpture animals, people in costume, dressed and hand-painted animals and even a plum pudding and a plate trimmed with lace.
Nancy Thomas of Yorktown, Va., made the large wooden lion as well as other animals in the White House display. She has exhibited her work in the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk and made the six-foot-high wooden Uncle Sam in the Yorktown Victory Center's permanent collection of patriotic folk art.
Eleanor Meadowcroft, who studied traditional art techniques in her native England, lives in Salem, Mass., in a house she decorated with a paint made from blueberries, sour cream and limes. Meadowcroft made the wooden toy ornaments on the White House tree. She is also known as a painter of traditional subjects and a sculptor as well as a restorer of houses. She's only been making the animals since May. Among her designs on the tree are several different black, white and pink pigs.
David Claggett,an antique dealer turned tinsmith, made the Gabriel for the top of the tree, as well as a four-inch swan and an eight-inch elephant, buffaloes, owls, steers, birds and other farm animals. He lives in a saltbox house in Christiana, Pa. Claggett also makes flour scoops for Williamsburg as well as a chandelier and other lighting fixtures.
Crocheted snowflakes from Central Pennsylvania Village Crafts, State College, Pa., will also be on the tree.
The dollhouse by Aline Koplin has been decorated for Christmas. Even the dolls, by Helen Cohen of Yarley, Pa., are dressed in holiday finery made of antique fabrics. On the walls are miniature paintings copied by George Schlosser, including one of the Peaceable Kingdom.
The house, Koplin's fantasy, has a pastry shop and a "Garden of Eden" florist shop on the first floor. The Doll Jonas family lives above in great grandeur with petit point rugs, a bowl of jellybeans, stained glass windows, sterling silver chandeliers, tiny dried flowers and even miniature holiday sweets. The house has two trees, including one decorated with semiprecious stones and seed pearls.
Betty Monkman, assistant White House curator, recalled that "Jackie Kennedy was the first to have a theme Christmas tree. She had a Nutcracker Suite Christmas. The Nixons had flowers of all the states and balls with the states' names."
The Johnsons had an Early American tree with real gingerbread men, popcorn and nuts. Jane (Mrs. Charles) Engelhard of Far Hills, N.J., gave Lady Bird Johnson a great Neapolitan creche with 35 figures for the White House. Ten more were given during the Carter administration. Every year the creche is set up as a magnificent display in the East Room.
"Trees in the White House came lately," Monkman said. "In 1889, Benjamin Harrison himself helped the gardener decorate the first tree with candles. The tree was in the Oval Room (then the library) on the second floor for the delight of his grandchildren. In Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover's day, the trees were usually decorated in art deco style with tinsel and white lights.
"Mamie Eisenhower was the big tree decorator. One year she had 26 trees, including trees in the laundry and the servants' sitting room. Khrushchev gave Eisenhower some metal Christmas decorations on a visit one year."
According to Earl James, administrator of the Woodrow Wilson House, Edith Bolling Wilson, Wilson's second wife, was one of the first to move decorating outside with her Della Robia wreath decorated with fruits and spices. Wilson House is being decorated in her tradition this year with a ceiling-high tree in the solarium, decorated with colored electric lights, glass ornaments, and tinsel garlands.
The Woodrow Wilson house, at 2340 S St., where they lived after he left the presidency, will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 15 and 16 for candlelight tours, madrigal singers and hot cider punch from a 1920s Washington recipe. Admission to the house is $2 for adults, $1 for senior citizens and students; children under 12 will be admitted free.