How they create the twinkle for the holiday

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Gallery’s elaborate decorations require year-round focus

By Brent Schanding

It took crews at Wakefield-Scearce Galleries nearly 11 months to prepare for the store’s annual holiday extravaganza. It took shoppers only days to ravage it.


A rush on ornaments and decorations at the Washington Street antique dealer has left some trees lopsided –– and others almost bare –– since the gallery debuted its holiday stock last month.

But Terry Ethington, the floral designer who spent months arranging nearly a dozen of those displays, says creating the trees are like designing art in the sand.

“You know it’s not going to last,” she said.

Shoppers have partially plucked Ethington's “Chickmas” tree, a non-traditional holiday exhibit featuring ornamental barnyard roosters. Chicken wire replaces the tree's usual tinsel and a flock of life-size cocks -- one made mostly of chili peppers -- perch on its branches. Each decoration ranges in price from a few dollars to more than $50. Despite reports of sluggish holiday sales, staff at the galleries hope the avant garde birds fly the coup before Christmas.

"Buying is an emotional thing. Some people like their trees traditional, but when you're trying to catch someone's eye, you have to do the unexpected," said Ethington, who once wired a full-sized Western saddle to an equine-themed Christmas tree. "We do things that are unusual."

In the past, Ethington has created a baby-themed tree in honor of her new grandchild. Diapers and infant clothes were strewn from its limbs. She’s also created a beach-themed tree that literally kicked off the holiday season with flip flops.

“It has been a learning process for me,” Ethington said of her innovative designs.

She draws much of her creative inspiration from nature, the personalities of her customers and even dreams –– but Ethington admits the work takes time.

She and others from Wakefield-Scearce start scouting wholesale markets for holiday decorations in January. Ideas for themes emerge through the year, and some designing for the holiday displays begins as early as August. The gallery employs an extra crew of part-time staffers in September to help with its holiday undertakings. Finishing touches on the trees and displays must be complete by the first week of November. That’s when Wakefield-Scearce hosts its annual Christmas Gala.

Even though she saves time with pre-lit Christmas trees, it can take Ethington hours to wire and secure ornaments and decorations capable of withstanding high-commercial traffic. Sometimes she spends more than half a day decorating a single tree for the store. Bigger projects take even longer and require more hands.

"That's about a three full-day job," Mary Clark said of Wakefield-Scearce’s crown-jewel Christmas tree.

It overwhelms the lobby and climaxes at more than 15 feet to brush the lobby’s ceiling. At least 100 lights -- sometimes more -- bedazzle each limb. Clark, a buyer who also manages the operation's holiday Yule Shoppe, helped decorate the tree with three others. Its massive size makes it almost impossible to determine its exact number of ornaments, but Clark believes it to be in the thousands, although customers continually remove ornaments during the store’s busiest purchasing season. 

After Christmas each of the store’s trees is carefully dismantled and stored until next year –– a task that’s just as daunting as erecting the trees.

By that time "we're totally exhausted," said Ethington, who hasn't erected a tree in her own house in 15 years.

Unfortunately, there’s little rest for the weary. The Wakefield-Scearce crew has just days before shopping and preparation