A BIT OF GUILD HISTORY . . .
Christmas 1998 –TKGA Goes to the White House!
By Debby Johnston, TKGA Guild Relations Coordinator (August 2009)
In their sixth year in the White House, The President and Mrs. Clinton presented "Winter Wonderland – Holidays at the White House” for 1998*: "This year we wanted to transform the White House into a Winter Wonderland. We have so many fond memories of our childhood winters. Through the eyes of children we relive the pleasure of playing in the first snowfall, the silver glint of skate blades on a frozen pond, breathless sled rides down a glistening slope and lopsided snowmen with carrots for noses, destined to melt in the morning sun. No matter what your age, nothing is more beautiful than the stillness of a starry winter evening – especially on Christmas Eve – when snow blankets the street and the world is calm and bright. To capture these wonderful images of winter, we invited artists from across the country to craft ornaments in the spirit of the season...”
TKGA quickly passed the word to its guilds and asked if any guilds would like to contribute a knitted cap and matching mittens as ornaments. While TKGA does not have records of how many responded, we are sharing here many of the items we know about. (The White House prepared a listing of ornament artists by name which was to help them locate the placement of their item on the Blue Room Tree or in the East Colonnade wreaths, but we do not know which of the ornaments were knitted and which were created by other artisan groups.)
Jeanne Symons of the Delta Tule Woolies in California writes: "After packing [my ornaments] off to the provided address, I really didn’t think much more about them, expecting at the most an acknowledgment letter of receipt. You can imagine my surprise when I arrived home after work one day in early December to find in my mailbox an invitation from the White House to attend a tour for all the contributing artists!”
The invitation incuded the artist and a guest. Many TKGA members took their spouses, or other family members or friends. Jeanne Symons took her sister Kay Peterson and wrote: "The White House is of course absolutely beautiful at any time, but during the holidays it is transformed into a magic place! … The [Blue Room] Tree was huge – floor to ceiling, and in order to find one’s ornament, each contributor present was given a list of names and the section of the tree where her ornament might be found. The tree had been divided off as north, south, east and west, and one worked from there… I thought it particularly wonderful that we were not hurried along once we arrived in the Blue Room, but were given plenty of time to search out our ornament, and perhaps chat a bit with others who were searching as well.”
Whit Harris Robbins of The Atlanta Knitting Guild wrote: "I only knew two persons in the room [at The White House]…Imagine my luck to find Laura Bryant and her husband Matt! We looked for our knitting together.” She also added, "Knitting has taken me on an incredible journey in my life, but whoever thought it would take me to the White House!?!”
Each ornament was special. Everyone had a different idea and pattern for their ornament. Darline Farney of the Old Pueblo Knitters Guild, AZ, shared: "For my idea ... I chose Socks and Buddy, the Clinton’s cat and dog…I knitted Socks on one mitten, Buddy on the other mitten and both Socks and Buddy and the tree on the cap. A gold cord was attached to the cap and mittens [by The White House staff] to hang from the branch on the 18-1/2 foot Balsam Fir Christmas Tree like a bell with two clappers.”
Joan M. Smith of the Knotty Knitters, CA, wrote: "I treasure the thank you letter and picture I received from the Clintons.” HIllary wrote thank you for "helping to make the White House a Winter Wonderland for the 1998 holiday season.” Enclosed with the thank you was a copy of the holiday program and a photograph of the Clintons in front of the tree. Joan’s local newspaper announced her visit to The White House and elaborated that "After the holidays, some sets [of the knitted cap and mittens ornaments] were archived and the rest were distributed to children in need.”
The White House Program describing all of the decorations says: "The official White House tree stands in the Blue Room…and is decorated with the interpretations celebrating Winter Wonderland from artists across the nation. Snowmen from all fifty states were made by individuals recommended by the Governor of each state. The warmth of the room is captured with knitted mittens and hats from members of The Knitting Guild of America…”
TKGA is happy to share here some of the photos and mementos of the 1998 Christmas ornaments and visits to The White House.
(Thank you to Lisa A. Carnahan of Laurel Highlands Knitting Guild, PA for lending us the holiday program and other materials for the preparation of this article. Many of the materials collected here were shared with the author of a book on White House Christmas traditions. Once we get news of its publication and related postings, we will share them with TKGA members.)
Lisa Carnahan, Laurel Highlands Knitting Guild, PA and her ornament
Jeanne Symons, Delta Tule Woolies,CA, and her ornament set.
The Main Line Knitting Guild is named for the area of Philadelphia suburbs served by the
Main Line of the Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority, hence the train in the chart.
(Graph may not be copied or marketed or sold.)
Darline Farney, Old Pueblo Knitters Guild, AZ. Carina Gunnerson, Northcoast Knitters Guild, OH
Ornament by Joan M. Smith of Knotty Knitters, CA
Sand and Sea Knitting Guild, CA
Knaughty Knitters, FL
Silver State Knitting Guild, NV (above, green hat, red ribbing, red pom)
Ornament by Whit Robbins, Atlanta Knitting Guild, GA
See fifth line down in the page from The White House program booklet (above the letter).