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PIHS students design Christmas tree ornaments to be displayed in national celebration

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When Presque Isle High School art teacher Ellyn Whitten-Smith heard about an opportunity to have her students design a dozen ornaments for the National Christmas Tree celebration this year, she raised her hand right away. 

It was a chance she just couldn’t refuse. 

Each year, the National Park Service and U.S. Department of Education searches elementary, middle and high schools all over the country, looking for students to design and create a set of totally unique ornaments to be displayed in the nation’s capital. 

PIHS was the only school in Maine selected to make the ornaments this year.  

This will be the first and possibly the last time that the school ever gets this opportunity, Smith said.

A total of 56 schools and 1,500 students were chosen to participate in this year’s project, according to the National Park Service. 

The project will feature 56 trees that will be displayed in President’s Park, each one decorated with 24 different ornaments representing all the states, districts and territories that make up the nation. 

Presque Isle student Sierra Galipeau’s design of the iconic L.L. Bean boot before its final assembly for the National Christmas Tree celebration in Washington D.C., this year.
(Courtesy of Ellyn Whitten-Smith)

Smith said that last year, her sister who teaches at Lawrence High School, organized the state ornament project for the national celebration. She said the Department of Education approached her sister again this year, asking if she wanted to tackle the project for a second time.  

“My sister in Presque Isle would kill me if I did this two years in a row,” Smith recalled her sister saying after turning down the opportunity. 

In September, Smith began planning to do the project with her sophomore art sculpture class. But time conflicts posed a challenge. The students were already working on another project at the time, Smith said and shortly after, they went on break for the annual harvest season. 

This gave Smith and her students just two weeks to grind out 24 unique ornaments representing some part of the state. 

She decided to take the project a step beyond the traditional depictions of coastal lighthouses, lobsters, buckets of blueberries or other things people would normally associate with Maine. 

Encouraging them to exercise their own creative license, Smith told her students to create a design of what the state meant to them. 

“Maine offers so much more than just the traditional — what people see in a postcard,” she said. 

Presque Isle student Gabrielle Halley designed this ornament of a potato wearing a scarf for the National Christmas Tree celebration in Washington D.C., this year.
(Courtesy of Ellyn Whitten-Smith)

Students designed depictions of some of Maine’s well-known treasures including the puffin, blueberries, potatoes and fiddleheads, too. 

“The students could do whatever they wanted,” Smith said, describing the students’ creations, which vary from the iconic L.L. Bean Boot to whoopie pies and hot air balloons. 

Stephen King will also be represented in one ornament in a vignette-style design of “IT”.

“You get to see how young people view their home and how they view it from different regions,” she said.

All of the ornaments will be open for public viewing Dec. 9, 2019, through Jan. 1, 2020, in conjunction with the 97th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, according to the park service. 

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