OWATONNA — This year’s theme for the Owatonna Arts Center’s Christmas decorations is “Whimsical Wishes at Christmas,” and the displays certainly fit the billing, with everything from a colorful and bedazzled deer, to The Grinch and a tree inspired by the one in “Whoville.”
In one room, The Grinch is joined by Santa Claus, cascading presents, and the “whimsical” tree reminiscent of the one in “Whoville,” said Silvan Durben, the creative director of the arts center. At 12-feet-tall, the tree “pokes the ceiling.”
The tree was fashioned by Jerry Shore, who has helped the arts center with a number of holiday elements through the years, Durben said. For example, Shore previously created monumental rotating Ferris wheel, a 12-foot metal tree “with huge, rotating snowflakes,” and a sleigh.
Shore began creating unique items for the arts center’s Christmas display decades ago, as the holiday decorating at the center “started about the time we moved to Owatonna,” Shore said. “Nobody else was doing that at the time…and we wanted to put a little ‘Wow’ into the Christmas show.”
For example, one year he helped design a spiraling railroad for a train to run on around a tree, and mouths of spectators — especially children — “just dropped,” he said. “It put a lot of spark” into the decorations.
Shore’s own business eventually monopolized his time, so he had to curtail his Christmas contributions, but he’s “getting back into it,” he said.
“Now that I’m retired, I have time,” said Shore.
Another OAC room features an aluminum Christmas tree with multi-colored miniature lights, said Durben, who coordinates the annual holiday exhibit.
“In the 1960s, aluminum Christmas trees were all the rage,” said Durben.
The atrium tree’s “pink, puffy rosettes make for an interesting statement,” as does the deer — suspended in midair — covered in acrylic pour paint, he said. The latter is “a rainbow of color,” and the acrylic pour technique “gives it a marvelous marbleized look.”
Artist Beth DeCoux is responsible for the deer’s acrylic pour paintjob, and she’s taught several classes in the art form at the OAC. She even demonstrated the technique this summer during Art on the Hills.
Hot pink is the main color in the atrium/solarium this year, Durben said.
“At Christmas, we try to have fun, creating an unusual walk-through,” he said.
Still, as has been the tradition for several decades, the performing arts hall remains traditional, he said. There, red is the color, and the tree has white lights and ornaments created especially for this year by multiple volunteers using wire coat hangers and gold roping.
Holiday figurines created by Marilyn Henke are in a new location this year, the performing arts hall, he said.
“I am so enamored of her work,” said Durben. “The faces have character and personality.”
The key to crafting such faces is “a lot of looking in the mirror while you’re doing it,” said Henke. “The proportions have to be right so they look human.”
From reading doll magazines and collecting commercial dolls, Henke wanted to be able to sculpt and make them herself, so she took a class in Oklahoma City to learn the basics, and “I developed from there,” she said. “It takes a lot of practice — and time.”
“The nice thing about clay is you can work it until you bake it,” she added. “It stays soft.”
In addition to all the Christmas décor, “winter artwork” from the OAC collection is also displayed this month, Durben said. “I’m a big fan of the OZ Press pieces, and there are a few of those throughout the building.”
Also hanging in the hall is a seasonal favorite of Durben’s, “Waiting for the Mail,” painted by Adolph Dehn, which “only comes out in December, really.” The painting depicts a snow-covered, rural landscape teeming with life and activity.
Henke appreciates not only the way Durben displays her work, but also how he sets up the OAC in general.
“It’s fun to see” her pieces, and “people enjoy them,” but Durben “always displays everything so well,” Henke said. “It’s new and fresh each year.”
The holiday exhibition runs through Dec. 30. The arts center keeps regular hours of 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.