When Jennifer Zingg, a Frankfort artist and teacher, was asked last summer whether she and her students would create ornaments to decorate the Kentucky tree in the National Parks Service's annual holiday display near the White House in Washington, D.C., she said, "Absolutely!"
The resulting ornaments are angel-shaped figures made from gourds, clay and 6-inch clear plastic globes that are common elements in every state's decorations.
Zingg, who has collaborated with the Kentucky Arts Council on previous projects — including creating the 2009 Governor's Awards for the Arts and participating in the Kentucky Crafted market — worked some special touches into her angel designs.
"I created the body by incorporating small Kentucky-grown gourds with the plastic globe that the National Parks Service furnished," she said. "I chose to embellish the dress with various quilt patterns, a craft famous in Kentucky. The wings are carved from gourd pieces, and the halos are made from spun Kentucky wool."
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Zingg worked with seventh- and eighth-graders from Good Shepherd School in Frankfort to assemble the ornaments. As for deciding on an angel theme, Zingg said the school had moved recently from downtown Frankfort to a new campus off Leestown Road, and during the transition, they had prayed to guardian angels to watch over them.
"As a Christ-loving Catholic school, we wanted to send guardian angels to our nation's capital as messengers of peace to watch over and protect our nation," she said.
To learn more about Zingg, go to Jennysgourds.com.
Last week, 26 Good Shepherd students and their families attended the National Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington. How did the Kentucky ornaments turn out?
"Prior to the ceremony, Kentucky's tree was the only one featured on Entertainment Tonight," Zingg said. "It was a short clip, but it was very exciting!"
Finely branched with spongelike soft puffs of pale green, reindeer moss often comes in a rainbow of dyed hues. It's regularly used commercially — after being treated — as a pot filler to cover surfaces under orchids and other airy plants. This time of year, it's frequently used as miniature greenery around little toy trains or holiday villages. This plant material is a lichen known as Cladonia rangiferina. It is a symbiotic combination of fungi and algae. In the wild, it's eaten by reindeer and caribou, and it grows in Arctic tundra and rocky terrain, where other plants can't survive. You can find it at local craft and hobby stores.
Gifts for gardeners
What to give a gardener? Here's a list of ideas:
■ Find a healthy-looking houseplant with bright blooms, and tuck it in a pot or decorative planter with a bag of the appropriate potting soil. Orchids, violets, a bonsai tree and even cacti can bring a touch of warm-weather greenery to dispel a gardener's mid-winter gloom.
■ Give a subscription to a garden or home magazine that suits your gardener's style. Get a current issue from a newsstand or bookstore and give that with a note that more issues are on the way. Some of my favorites this year: Horticulture, DIY ReadyMade and Audubon.
■ Assemble a "sprout" kit for growing nutritious salad toppings. You'll need a few clear glass or plastic jars, cheesecloth squares to cover the openings, elastic fasteners and a collection of untreated bean, alfalfa, tangy mustard and radish seeds. Soak the seeds in the jars in water for a couple of hours, then drain them and keep them in a dark, warm (about 70 degrees) spot for three to five days, rinsing and draining them about twice a day, until a pair of green leaves emerges. Refrigerate the sprouts, which will keep for a few days. This also is a great idea for a vacation project for kids.
■ Good gardening tools are worth their weight in gold. Fiskars, which has been in business since 1649, makes some of my favorite cutting, pruning and sawing tools, for gardening and for crafts. Their ergonomically designed PowerGear tools — great for folks with arthritic hands or who appreciate a power boost — can be found in most home and garden stores. For more information, go to Fiskars.com.
■ An easy carry-all during spring planting is a simple, washable cotton/poly garden apron, complete with pockets for holding seed packets and a tool or two. If you're the artsy type, you can personalize it with fabric paint. Another great gift is a long, low basket with an over-the-arm handle that makes it easier to tote freshly picked flowers and vegetables into the house.