History meets technology in Occoquan’s contribution to the governor’s Christmas tree in Richmond this year.
For the second holiday season in a row, the Executive Mansion, official residence of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), worked with the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties to solicit tree ornaments from the state’s counties, cities and towns.
And, like last year, Occoquan’s ornament was made by town resident Vicky Somma, who crafted a model of a historic building using a 3-D printer. In 2015, Somma’s subject was the Mill House Museum. This year, it was Rockledge Mansion, which sits on a hill across from the museum.
“We have a huge artist population here, so it was very much an honor to do an ornament again this year,” Somma said.
The Occoquan Business Guild commissioned Somma to make the ornaments both years, and she chose to model Rockledge based on the theme for McAuliffe’s tree, “Home for the Holidays.”
“Rockledge is probably the most notable home in Occoquan,” Somma said Tuesday, two days before McAuliffe’s holiday open house at the Executive Mansion.
Rockledge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is now a wedding and event venue. But it was built in 1758 as a Georgian-style stone house for industrialist John Ballendine. Ballendine was a friend of George Mason, and he hired William Buckland, who built Mason’s home at Gunston Hall, to design the Occoquan residence, according to Rockledge owner Lance Houghton and a town timeline from the Occoquan Historical Society.
Somma, a 41-year-old computer programmer, is a third-generation Occoquan resident, and she’s been interested in 3-D printing for nearly three years. She got hooked on the phenomenon when she was nursing her youngest son, Dyson, who’s now 3, and a friend was selling glass lockets.
The idea was that the customer would buy a locket and charms to put inside it that “tell your story,” Somma said. A big part of her story at the time was breast-feeding, but she couldn’t find a breast-feeding charm. So she decided to make one.
“With 3-D printing, you’re not bound to buy what someone’s decided to mass-produce,” Somma said. “You can pick your little niche interests and make what you want to make.”
A few months later, one of her Christmas ornament designs won acclaim.
In late 2014, Somma was one of five winners of the 3-D Printed Ornament Design Challenge held by the Smithsonian Institution, the White House, and the science and tinkering website Instructables. In that contest, she designed an ornament that ended up on a Christmas tree in the White House’s East Wing.
It was inspired by one of her husband’s favorite places: Ryan Somma loves the Main Reading Room in the Library of Congress’s Jefferson Building.
“Actually, when I made this ornament, I didn’t think that it was going to be enough to win the White House, but I thought it was going to be enough to impress my husband,” Vicky Somma said.
The Rockledge ornament, on the tree in the Executive Mansion’s main ballroom, is made of gray plastic. Somma spent about three days designing it, and printing a copy of the creation takes four to five hours.
Like the customers who made those purchases, LaVerne Carson, president of the Occoquan Business Guild, said the organization was pleased with Somma’s Rockledge work.
“Oh, my gosh, yes,” said Carson, who owns a Christmas shop called the Golden Goose. “It’s beautiful.”
As for Houghton, he said that although his name is on the deed to Rockledge, he considers himself just a steward of the historic property.
“So I thought that the ornament would be a way of sharing the house with, you know, people far and wide,” he said.
Visitors can tour the Executive Mansion and see the Christmas tree and ornaments from localities across the state. For more information, see executivemansion.virginia.gov.