Art students at Cavelero Mid High School, Ivonne Salazar, 15 (left) and Maryam Hasan, 14 (center) join teachers Karen Towey (back right) and Kylen Fountain to talk about creating ornaments for the National Christmas Tree project. An image of the tree, located near the White House, is displayed on a screen in the classroom. (Dan Bates) / The Herald)

Art students at Cavelero Mid High School, Ivonne Salazar, 15 (left) and Maryam Hasan, 14 (center) join teachers Karen Towey (back right) and Kylen Fountain to talk about creating ornaments for the National Christmas Tree project. An image of the tree, located near the White House, is displayed on a screen in the classroom. (Dan Bates) / The Herald)

Lake Stevens students add to National Christmas Tree display

“It’s a happy story about Washington,” says Cavelero Mid High School art teacher who headed project.

Ninth-graders Ivonne Salazar and Maryam Hasan have never visited Washington, D.C. Yet an art project they helped create is part of the 2019 National Christmas Tree display, now dazzling visitors to President’s Park near the White House.

“I just thought it would be remarkable to have our students’ art shown at the White House,” said Karen Towey, who teaches Art 1 classes at Cavelero Mid High School.

Twenty-four ornaments made at the Lake Stevens school, each containing two miniature paintings, represent all of Washington state in the display. There are 56 small trees — one for every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia — encircling the National Christmas Tree.

The display, called “America Celebrates: Ornaments from Across the USA,” is a project of the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation. It’s a tradition meant to showcase the history, heritage and culture of the artists’ homes.

For the Lake Stevens artists, there was more to it. By including repurposed tops of yogurt containers, which the paintings are attached to, the ornaments carry an environmental message.

Each small painting of a different locale around Washington is “a symbol of our natural beauty, juxtaposed in a recycled plastic lid,” Towey said. One aim of the project was to highlight the harm plastic pollution causes to Puget Sound’s marine wildlife, she said.

Along with Towey’s students, those in teacher Kylen Fountain’s Art 1 classes at Cavelero painted scenes for the ornaments. Towey submitted a proposal to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction “to make this happen,” according to Jayme Taylor, Lake Stevens School District spokeswoman.

“Only 56 schools in the nation were chosen for this honor,” Taylor said.

The balls containing the paintings — ironically, they’re plastic — were provided by the National Park Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the National Park Service. The completed ornaments were shipped in late October to Washington D.C., Taylor said, and are among the creations of more than 1,500 students chosen to participate.

At Cavelero Mid High, which serves eighth- and ninth-graders, Ivonne and Maryam talked Tuesday about painting the scenic images and making the ornaments.

The circular pictures began with the notion of the state quarters, coins that represent the 50 states, Ivonne said. “Then we looked at places, and began with simple pencil sketches,” Maryam said.

From colored-pencil drawings, the young artists made acrylic paintings which were attached to the lids with hot glue. Gloss gel medium was added, boosting the brilliance of the images and providing protection.

“We brainstormed everybody’s favorite places,” said Towey, who encouraged students to consider Eastern Washington as well as nearby locations. Some ornaments also featured wildlife.

“I did Cape Flattery,” said Ivonne, while Maryam’s painting includes a forest, river and rock formation illuminated by a sunset.

At Cavelero Mid High, 230 students created art for the project, but just 48 paintings were chosen for the display in the nation’s capital. The other art hasn’t gone unnoticed. Those pictures are on display at the Schack Art Center in Everett, Towey said.

As they worked on mini paintings, students weren’t told what the artwork was for — only that it was important. Towey said kids didn’t learn until Oct. 31 that their art was part of the National Christmas Tree project. “I was very excited,” Ivonne said.

They were invited to a tree lighting ceremony, but no one could make the trip, Towey said. At the Dec. 5 ceremony at the Ellipse in front of the White House, First Lady Melania Trump was introduced by the president and flipped the switch. The U.S. Marine Corps Band played “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and other performers sang carols.

In 1923, a tree outside the White House was lit by President Calvin Coolidge, starting a tradition now marking its 97th year.

“It’s a happy story about Washington,” Towey said.

Fifteen-year-old Ivonne is a bit young to settle on a career. But even without a trip to the White House, creating art has been a powerful influence on the teen. “I’ve been considering being an art teacher,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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