Deck the halls

Alaska-made ornaments on sale at local stores during the holidays

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Charlie Detjen paints and sells Ukrainian Easter eggs, but some of what he sells end up on Christmas trees.

"I tailor them for the Alaska market and the Christmas market, so I do birds and whales and puffins and Alaska scenes, and whatever seems to be hot," he said.

Detjen is one of several Juneau and Alaska craftsmen and women who create ornaments for holiday sales at local stores. Others design or make ornaments from glass, felt, porcelain, beads and bark. He is one of 21 artists involved with Juneau Artists Gallery Ltd. and several produce ornaments.

His pysanky eggs are decorated for Easter with intricate geometric designs, using melted wax and special pens. Detjen learned the Ukrainian art of Easter egg painting from his mother-in-law, Katherine Laskow. Although pysanky were intended for seasonal use, many collectors display them year-round.

Detjen, who has been making the eggs "seriously" for about 15 years, detours from traditional design now and again, but his method is the typical wax-resist method with aniline dyes.

"They retain their color well unless they are in bright sunlight. Otherwise they do very well," he said.

"I use everything from quail to chicken to goose, rhea and ostrich eggs," said Detjen, 52, who retired after serving as a dentist with the Coast Guard for 26 years. "I guess I must like to work small."

The eggs range in price from $30 to $400.

Robyn Marriott, another member of Juneau Artists Gallery cooperative, paints on the inside of ready-blown glass ornaments, a traditional Chinese method. Marriott, who uses the business name Marriart, uses acrylics to paint abstracts, dipping a brush into the tiny entrance. The results resemble shimmering water, tumbled satin - or the aurora borealis.

"They're kind of crafty, but I like to cover a wide range of prices for the consumer," said Marriott. "These balls are one thing I can do cheaply and quickly, and the kids love the bright colors." Price range is $8 and up.

Marriott was born in Kodiak, raised in Juneau, attended college in Dallas - "and came running back in 1984."

Nell McConahey, another gallery member, produces metal jewelry, stained glass hangings and mirrors ornamented with stained glass and found objects that catch her fancy.

"My beveled glass ornaments were originally made as suncatchers because they cast prisms across the room when you hang them in the sun," McConahey said, "but they work great on Christmas trees with lights. After you use them on the tree, they can hang in the window all year long." Her ornaments retail at $18 to $20 each.

The Juneau Artists Gallery is on the second floor of the Senate Building, 175 S. Franklin St.

Alaska General Store, at 224 Front St., is carrying two hand-made, Alaska-made ornaments, said owner Sarah Stuckey. One is an "Alaska mosquito house" made by an Eskimo woman in the Anchorage area ($5). The other ornaments are miniature totem poles created by Alaska Black Diamond, a firm in Ward Cove near Ketchikan ($28).

Kathy VanderJack, owner of The Bear's Lair, 175 South Franklin St., carries the Calico Cache line made in Eagle River, including felt cutouts including sled dogs, caribou, musk oxen, eagles, ravens, fish, a Russian Orthodox church, a Tlingit dancer in a button blanket and a moose wearing a bright yellow raincoat and carrying an umbrella. All are lightly plumped and some are trimmed with fur or fringe. They average in size from 3 to 4 inches tall, and range in price from $8 to $10.

VanderJack's store also carries made-in-Alaska Eskimo masks carved from black cottonwood bark. The thick, lightweight bark is gathered from fallen trees and each face is carved by hand. Size ranges from 3 to 4 inches in diameter and the masks are $11.75 each.

The Bear's Lair also carries leather moose ornaments crafted in Wasilla, porcelain ornaments by Sally McNair of Northern Light Venture in Palmer and tiny fabric moose dolls by Lynn Burton of the Quail's Nest in Tok. Susan Sloss of Juneau creates ornaments by painting mountain vistas on silk. Then she encases them in acrylic covers.

Probably Juneau's oldest ornament shop is the Christmas Store, 323 S. Franklin St. Manager Amra Custer says that when tourists browse in the summer, their most frequent request is for items made in Alaska. This season Custer is stocking two lines made in Palmer. Sally Reed makes a flat, cutout porcelain ornament in totemic themes (white porcelain painted in black and red). Reed is also producing polar bears wearing beaded necklaces. The range for her work is $9.95 to $11.95.

Another Palmer artist is using an unusual material, ground birch mixed with resin and poured into Eskimo angel molds. The angels, hand-painted, range from $6.95 to $7.95 each.

Rock Paper Scissors, which opened in June, carries hand-made ornaments from Maine, Boston and India. Owners Leah Sturgis, Amy Fletcher and Laura Hosey have stocked wire and bead ornaments by Jenna O'Fontanella, a Juneau massage therapist. O'Fontanella creates abstract shapes ornamented with hand-cut metal bits that reflect light. Price range is $15 to $25.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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