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Hand-made history for the Christmas tree: Local potter helps Waynesville museum through sale of ornaments

By Michael Beadle

Terry Painter and his wife Anita love collecting ornaments for their Christmas tree each year, but they found that fewer and fewer ornaments bore any connection to the actual holiday.

Alas, they thought, another tradition drifting away into rampant commercialism.

So Painter, a potter and owner of a Different Drummer in Maggie Valley, decided to create his own series of Christmas ornaments that reflected Nativity scenes, a little white church on the edge of a forest, a newly cut evergreen tree being carried home. It grew into about 20 different designs.

This year, Painter teamed up with volunteers at the Historic Shelton House Museum of Handicrafts in Waynesville to create a limited edition series of Christmas ornaments to help raise money for the preservation of the museum.

This fall, Painter went to the museum and sketched out some designs. He was especially fascinated by the lines in the barn’s architecture and an old red sleigh that is displayed there along with the dozens of handicrafts from artisans all over Western North Carolina. After finding a drawing of the barn and the sleigh that he liked, he created some clay molds of the scene and brought them over for guild volunteers at the Shelton House, who then pressed balls of clay into the molds and made 100 limited edition ornaments that were then fired, painted and refired. The whole process from sketches to the final firing took about six or seven weeks.

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“I can’t say enough about the volunteers,” Painter said.

Painter might have felt a little like ol’ Saint Nick with his own version of an assembly line of elves pressing pottery molds and painting.

Jan Griffin, chairwoman of the guild for the Historic Shelton House Museum, said she and the ladies who volunteered their time on the project had a ball.

“We just want to start a tradition,” she said, “that people could look forward to every year.”

Painter said it might even be an opportunity to have a different artist take on the ornament project each year.

“It would be great exposure for the area’s artists,” he said.

Beyond taking away a Christmas present, those who buy these kinds of handmade gifts take away something more, Painter added.

“They’re taking home a story,” he said. “They’re taking home a remembrance of where they were.”

That kind of gift seems much more meaningful to people, Painter explained, especially when they can meet the artist and have a closer connection to the artwork instead of carrying off a mass-produced item made in an unnamed factory.

The Shelton House ornaments made by Painter and the Shelton House volunteers are being sold for $25 each at Twigs & Leaves Gallery and the Olde Brick House on Main Street in downtown Waynesville. At the opening reception for the ornament’s unveiling on Nov. 16, about 35 to 40 of the original 100 were sold. As of this week, only about 25 remain.

Though the ornaments were made to be pretty close to one another, no two are exactly alike. Each is numbered, signed by Painter and stamped with a Shelton House seal. The ornaments also come boxed with a brief history of the Shelton House, which was built in 1875 for Stephen Jehu, who was then sheriff of Haywood County, and his wife, Mahala Conley Shelton. The fireplace mantels, bed, interior doors and other finely crafted items in the house were made of black walnut, which came from trees on the property at the time. The house passed along to family members and was rented for a time before being purchased in 1977 by a group of trustees who opened the building and grounds as a museum in 1980. Today, the Shelton House holds one of the largest collections of Cherokee artifacts and handcrafted art in Western North Carolina. Displayed items include quilts, sculpted porcelain, dulcimers and hand-woven coverlets. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was recently featured in the October edition of Our State magazine.

Proceeds of the sale of the Shelton House Christmas ornament will help pay for the upkeep of the museum. Plans are in the works to have its front porch renovated and upgraded so that it can accommodate weddings on the property. For more information about the Shelton House, which is located at 49 Shelton Street in Waynesville, call 828.452.1551.

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