Creating a tradition

Homestead Gardens designs limited edition Maryland-themed ornaments

December 07, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

About four years ago, Jeanne Rowell decided she wanted to create a formal Christmas tree decorated entirely with Maryland-themed ornaments for the holiday showroom at Homestead Gardens.

She visited various sites that sell ornaments throughout the region, and found that the selection of Maryland-themed decorations was slim.

She said she decided that if she couldn't find ornaments to decorate the tree, she would design her own.

"I already buy ornaments in Europe every year," she said. "And if you give the glass factories the designs, they will make anything that you want."

Rowell organized a design team, and work began. Each year they made ornaments, and three Christmases later, the Homestead artisans have created about a dozen or more ornaments.

Some of the ornaments are glass and hand-painted with wrap-around scenes that depict historical sites throughout Maryland and scenes from the Chesapeake Bay, while others are three-dimensional and made of brass.

The ornaments cover one of the centerpiece Christmas displays in the shop. Standing at more than 12 feet tall, the tree is filled with the ornaments, sunflowers and small Maryland flags.

Ranging in price from $19.95 to $39.95, the ornaments are labor intensive, and therefore only a limited number of each one is made, Rowell said. This year, in addition to ornaments offered in previous years, Homestead has eight new pieces.

The 2007 brass ornaments depict the Thomas Point Lighthouse, the Thomas Point Blue Heron, an Annapolis city scene and a Maryland state flag. The glass ornaments depict the Maryland Blue Crab, an Annapolis city scene with the U.S. Naval Academy, Hooper Strait Lighthouse and geese flying over the Chesapeake.

"We wanted to do something to celebrate Maryland's rich history. Very few regions of our country have such a well-defined history," said Tim Hamilton, marketing director at Homestead Gardens, a garden center founded in 1973 in Davidsonville.

On a recent afternoon, Jana Kress and her cousin, Carol Carman, visited the shop and checked out the ornaments. Kress, who lives in Manchester, Mich., was visiting Carman, who resides in Annapolis.

"These ornaments are very cool if they have some significance to you," Kress said. "When I travel, I buy an ornament that depicts something that I did. Then when I put up my Christmas tree, it's a chance to remember ... it's a walk down memory lane."

Using a box of color glass samples, a team of designers that includes an artist, creates the ornaments right down to the very last detail.

In January 2005, Rowell took the first design sketches -- a ball-shaped, glass ornament that contains a scene that shows the Annapolis waterfront, with the State Capitol dome in the background -- to Europe to a glass factory where she bought other ornaments each year.

Within weeks, the factory created a template for the ornament, which they e-mailed to Rowell for approval, she said. But typically the ornaments require some tweaking.

"Sometimes it takes five or more times to get the colors just right," she said. The brass ornaments start out on paper, and are made by the Baldwin Co., she said.

When the first ornament arrived, the response was amazing, she said.

Because of the response that first year, they added more ornaments in 2006, including one that contains the State Capitol in Annapolis and a horse-drawn carriage, she said. Last year, there was a waiting list for the ornaments, she said.

For the 2007 season, they designed several new pieces. They added the Naval Academy to the scene depicted on the first year's ornament. They also created some flat glass ornaments with blue crabs, llamas, lighthouses and seagulls on them.

"The second year, we had a waiting list for some of the ornaments," Rowell said. "We knew then that we had started a new tradition."

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