If you visit the National Christmas Tree display at the White House this year, you will find ornaments designed by students from each state and U.S. territory. Students from Marion County High School designed Kentucky’s ornaments using traditional quilting patterns for inspiration.
Marion County High School art teacher Kandace Potter said she was trying to think of a design emblematic of the state, and her mind went to her 89-year-old grandmother’s quilting patterns. Her grandmother, who she calls “Mama Jean,” quilted until her eyesight failed in her mid-80s.
“From a very young age, I would see her cutting the quilt squares, piecing them together, sitting in her chair,” she said.
Potter said the quilt patterns also evoke the “barn quilts” that make up part of the region’s quilt trail. Artists in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee have painted quilt-like squares and murals on barns in rural areas, with the goal of drawing tourists off the interstate.
Potter gave students a traditional quilt shape like a star, a pilgrim or a windmill, as a template. Students then added their own flair. Marion County High School senior Emily Tungate chose a star and, using high-quality colored pencils, drew honey bees to represent the importance of agriculture to the state and blossoms from a tulip poplar, the state tree.
“It’s crazy to think that out of all the schools that could have been picked, ours got picked,” she said.
Tungate’s design is one of 24 printed from her class onto circular ornaments. The ornaments hang from Kentucky’s designated Christmas tree. Each state and U.S. territory has its own tree in the walkway surrounding the giant National Christmas Tree. 2021 is the first year the display has featured trees with ornaments from the Bureau of Indian Education and the Department of Defense Education Activity, which serves students on military bases around the world.
Potter said the project allowed her students to explore several important concepts: balance, symmetry and color theory.
Being selected by the Kentucky Department of Education to represent Kentucky was the “highlight” of her seven-year teaching career, she said. She plans to make a trip to D.C. to see the ornaments in person next week. Given the toll this month’s tornadoes have taken on the state, she expects the visit will be particularly meaningful.
“It does mean a lot to represent Kentucky in any season,” she said. “But taking on the current disaster definitely will impact my feelings as we go and actually see it.”
The trees are on display through the first of the year. To see the entries from all states, U.S. territories, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Department of Defense schools, click here.