White House tree puts spotlight on national parks

Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Fairbanks painter Kesler Woodward was thrilled when first asked to adorn a Christmas tree ornament for the White House.

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The last time he'd been asked to do anything that crazy was when he painted the Alaska Easter egg during the Reagan administration, he said Monday.

But the task of painting the 6-inch diameter round gold ball was daunting, even for a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

After days of trying to paint the egg in his signature expressive style, only to wipe the paint off and try again the next day, his wife, Missy, came to his rescue.

"We worked together. She saved me," Woodward said.

The two painted Mount McKinley and surrounding mountains at Denali National Park and Preserve, all in their proper sizes on the bottom of the ball against a night sky. Missy, who is a doctor, stayed up late for several nights applying beads to form a curtain of northern lights.

"It looked great when we were done," Woodward said. "We are absolutely delighted to have the ornament on the tree. We are so devoted to Denali park and being able to do anything for the park is a privilege."

Set up in the Blue Room of the White House is an 18-foot Christmas tree adorned with 347 hand-decorated ornaments created by artists around the country to tell the stories of America's splendid national parks.

First lady Laura Bush, who visited Denali National Park in the summer of 2006, asked each national park to contribute an ornament for the tree.

Alaska's national parks, which constitute about two-thirds of the total acreage in the national park system, sent 13 hand-decorated ornaments to Washington, said John Quinley, a spokesman for the National Park Service.

"The tree is awesome," said Vic Knox, the National Park Service's deputy regional director for the Alaska region. "Each of those ornaments is truly a work of art that says something about the park."

Last week, Knox attended a holiday reception at the White House. About 60,000 people are expected to visit the White House during the holiday season.

Knox said there was a guide to the ornaments on the tree. Even so, he couldn't find all the Alaska ones.

"It was probably the most beautiful Christmas tree I've ever seen," he said.

One of those ornaments was painted by Margaret Hazen, an employee at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southeast Alaska.

"We were just given a plain gold ball, and we could basically do anything we wanted to it," Hazen said.

For inspiration, she turned to drawings in her wilderness journal.

"Glacier Bay is a special place. It is unique in so many different ways," Hazen said. "I did a large humpback whale on the ball. ... I did a scene of an ice flow and a seal on the ice flow."

Mindful that Glacier Bay is mostly a water park, she painted a starfish on the bottom of the ball. On the top, she painted the Big Dipper on a starry night, a rarity in Glacier Bay.

"We appreciate those clear nights," Hazen said.

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