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Newtown Will Be Well Represented This Year During The Annual Governor's Residence Holiday Open House



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Newtown Will Be Well Represented This Year During

The Annual Governor’s Residence

Holiday Open House

By Shannon Hicks

HARTFORD — Governor M. Jodi Rell will open the doors of the Governor’s Residence, at 990 Prospect Avenue, this weekend for the annual Holiday Open House. The annual holiday event will run on Friday and Saturday, December 5 and 6, from 10 am to 3 pm; and Sunday, December 7, noon to 4 pm.

The Connecticut Artists’ Tree, one of three theme trees, will be adorned with all handcrafted ornaments, representing artists from many of Connecticut’s 169 towns. Among the ornaments on the tree this year will be a collection of five by the Newtown resident and artist Brigette Sorensen, who delivered her creations to the governor’s office last month. In addition to the five ornaments that represent three of Newtown’s citizens, one that represents a large group of volunteers, and one representing a guest who marched in the 2006 parade, is a tree topper that depicts the State Capitol Building, complete with its gold dome.

“We get about 5,000 people through the governor’s residence when we hold the open house,” said Carol O’Shea, the executive director of the Governor’s Residence. “Each year we have a couple of theme trees, and volunteers, florists, and green growers spend their time [the weekend before the open house] decorating the residence. It’s really beautiful.”

The open house offers a few theme trees each year. This year there will be one tree covered with more than 180 ornaments by kindergarten students, another decorated by the residents of retirement communities, and one that has been dubbed The Artists’ Tree.

“That’s our featured tree,” Ms O’Shea said. “It will be in our reception area. Ornaments have come in from all over the state. Some are descriptive of the towns they’re from, others represent the governor’s life, like one that came in in the shape of the governor’s dog.

“Another artist sent five origami birds with beads on them, very creative. Someone else adapted a light bulb into an ornament to represent the governor’s ‘One Thing’ campaign,” she added. “We just kind of let the artists do with whatever they wanted.”

“Some of the ornaments are just so quirky and fun,” said Ms O’Shea. “It’s just amazing what people can do, it really is.”

In addition to the ornaments, Ms O’Shea’s office also received five potential tree toppers. “All of the pieces are very creative, beautiful works of art,” she said.

Brigette Sorenson’s was selected to be the one used on The Artists’ Tree.

“It is absolutely stunning,” said Ms O’Shea. “It is a three-tiered replica of the gold capitol dome in all its winter glory. It lights up on the top and is beautiful. It has a magical fantasy to it due to its frosty layers. It will certainly be a showstopper for the tree.”

The Artists’ Tree will present all of the new ornaments received this year, along with, said Ms O’Shea, many of last year’s Artists’ Tree ornaments.

A Collection From Newtown

At least 30 artists responded to a Call For Artists issued by The Connecticut Commission of Culture & Tourism (CCT) earlier this year, when the opportunity was given to state residents who were interested in creating ornaments for a theme tree to be displayed during an open house this weekend at the Governor’s Residence.

“We opened to any artist willing and eager to participate,” said Ms O’Shea. Working with the CCT, the governor’s office issued a call for artists in September. Artists had an October deadline to send an intent to participate notice to CCT, and a November 14 deadline to have their ornament(s) delivered to Hartford.

The only stipulation artists were given was that ornaments should measure no more than six inches in height or width, and be able to hang on an evergreen tree.

The items could be constructed from materials of the artist’s choosing. A listing that Mrs Sorensen responded to had the additional standard that ornaments should represent the hometown of the artist creating them.

Her contribution is a collection of five ornaments and a tree topper. The ornaments represent Governor Rell, State Representative Julia Wasserman, Newtown Bee Publisher R. Scudder Smith, a firefighter, and a Secret Service agent.

“Julia is finalizing her term of duties in Hartford,” said Mrs Sorensen, who depicted the Sandy Hook resident riding on a sheep with her left arm raised, a snowball in her hand. “Mrs Wasserman, sporting warm winter attire and a good pair of boots, isn’t afraid of tackling anything.

“Scudder is a unique soul, [and] I think The Newtown Bee is a well enough known publication that it holds relevance being identified with our town,” said Mrs Sorensen. Like Mrs Wasserman’s ornament, the one depicting Mr Smith shows him atop a sheep. The publisher is wearing one of his signature bowties and is holding an issue of The Newtown Bee in his left hand.

The firefighter is representative of the hundreds of residents who volunteer their time to any of Newtown’s five fire companies.

“They’re all a great bunch and our town, as with every other town in Connecticut, is a better, safer place for us,” said Mrs Sorensen, whose oldest son recently joined Dodgingtown Volunteer Fire Company.

The Secret Service agent is a throwback to the 2006 Labor Day Parade, when agents accompanied the governor during her visit to Newtown.

“It stepped our ‘little Newtown parade’ up a notch or two,” said Mrs Sorensen. That year’s parade was filled with more politicians than ever, and included national television coverage. “We had been invaded, and of course at the time of making [the ornaments] it was a pretty intense political time for us again.”

Each ornament includes its figure either riding on or standing aside a wooly fleeced sheep. Mrs Sorensen said the Secret Service agent’s strong yet gentle hand stroking the head of the parade sheep he is standing next to shows his willingness to serve.

The Sorensens live on a gentleman’s farm on Boggs Hill Road, complete with vegetable gardens, chickens, and Cotswold sheep. Mrs Sorensen honors her Norwegian heritage through the raising of the sheep, whose fleece is used for a number of products.

Each sheep ornament — as well as the human figures — was created using miniature wire armatures that were then plastered with paper and plaster. Sculpy was then used to sculpt the animal of human form. Mrs Sorensen used wool that she hand processed to cover the sheep ornaments.

“The wool,” she wrote in a brochure accompanying her collection, “represents our corner of the state, with its few farms left to dot its landscape. These figures make a flock with none else but Governor Jodi Rell to lead them.”

In addition to all this and the tree topper described earlier, Mrs Sorensen also created a three-fold card to accompany her gift to The Artists’ Tree. The brochure includes photos of four ornaments, photos of Governor Rell and Mrs Wasserman, and a photo of Newtown’s flag. She included an artist’s statement, and some information about each of the people represented in her ornaments. On its cover is one of the drawings (reduced in size, of course) Mrs Sorensen used during her sketching and presculpting process.

“One of the reasons I answered this call is because of Jodi Rell’s support and interest in the arts,” Mrs Sorensen said this week. “She and [State Rep] Julia [Wasserman] both have made this evident. Her support and guidance at the state level is welcoming.

“I was truly interested in participating because I have met Governor Rell and I have witnessed several other holiday settings where gracious mansions and households are adorned with crafted holiday pieces,” said Mrs Sorensen, “and it brings the warmth of the true holiday spirit into what might otherwise be an interior of immense emptiness.”

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