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Students' work adorns Capitol Christmas Tree

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Rochester child designs an ornament for the Capitol Christmas Tree.

When House Speaker John Boehner lights the Capitol Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 2, some of the 10,000 ornaments on it will look familiar to local students.

Some 1,000 of them were produced by hand in a collaborative project between Mayo Clinic and local schools.

But residents here don't have to wait until the lighting ceremony to see examples of the ornaments. That's because the Capitol tree, cut from Chippewa National Forest, will make a stop in Rochester's Peace Plaza on Friday. It's the first Capital Christmas Tree from Minnesota since 1992.

At Friday's event, other ornaments made by area students will be on display. Since school is off that day, the students will be given a chance to see their work on display.

The theme of the event and the ornaments is "Joy, Peace, and Health," says Dr. Jane Matsumoto, a member of Mayo Clinic's Dolores Jean Lavin's Center for Humanities and Medicine, which worked with the schools and community to coordinate the project and provide money for the materials.

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"Nature and arts are so important to health and healing," Dr. Matsumoto said.

Christmas in July

The ornaments were made by students from Rochester's public schools, as well as private schools like the Rochester Arts and Sciences Academy and Rochester Central Lutheran School. Other ornaments came from Winona schools and children at Mayo Clinic Hospital–Saint Marys.

The ornaments by the Saint Marys children were made during a Christmas in July program, and will be displayed on a tree in the hospital's courtyard as well as in the Peace Plaza.

"Because the tree is coming from Minnesota, to really involve the children of the state is a very cool thing, and to allow our students to have a part of that, is something that won't come around again for many years, because the tree only comes from each state every so often," said Brooke Santjer, an art teacher at John Marshall, "It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Students worked on the ornaments over the first week of school. Once finished, the ornaments were shipped to Washington on Sept. 26.

The ornaments had to fit a specific weight and size profile — less than 1/2 pound and between 9 and 12 inches — which made selecting materials an important part of the process.

Public high school teachers decided to revisit an older project that had been developed to mimic some of famous glass artist Dale Chihuly's more flower-like pieces. They used Dura-Lar, a transparent acetate alternative with a low melting point that creates glass-like colors and forms.

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The ornaments were also inspired by a painting by Louise Phillips, "Blooms," which was shown to teachers as a possible point of inspiration before the school year began.

"The ornaments ended up being kind of a combination of ideas," Santjer said. "Knowing (the Chihuly pieces are) an important part of the art world in Rochester, it seemed like a perfect choice."

Varied outcomes

Santjer gave her upper-level drawing and painting students the opportunity first, then opened it up to some of her lower-level drawing and painting students. John Marshall contributed about 50 ornaments total.

Santjer says her students were excited by the project and engaged in the creation of their ornaments.

"The outcomes were varied and that's what makes them interesting, just because they're not all looking the same and they have variety," she said.

Public elementary school students made ornaments out of pizza tins, while their private school peers created their own styles.

Kim Shower is an English and art teacher at RCLS, where students in grades 4 through 8 worked on the project and contributed 130 ornaments made out of aluminum.

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"To fulfill the requirements … we came up with doing the aluminum, since it's recyclable," Shower said. "The guys at Menard's were very helpful and directed me to the rolls of aluminum in the roughing department."

The students chose one of three shapes — a tree, a heart, or a fish — then used a nail and hammer to impress the word peace, health, or joy on the ornament. They decorated the hangers with red and green twine and beads.

"Knowing that their ornaments were going to Washington was very special to them," Shower said.

"I think that it's really a great thing that there's a relationship, or a partnership, happening between community and the public schools," Santjer said. "It's great to see that the arts are really becoming a desired need for the city."

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