Over the summer, I was contacted by Kristen Fulford from Congressman John Barrow’s office. Kristen told me that the First Lady Laura Bush had asked each congressman to nominate an artist from each of their districts to design an ornament for the Blue Room Christmas tree. Kristen reminded me that the Blue Room Christmas tree is the official tree of the White House. She told me that Congressman Barrow had personally selected me to represent our Congressional District. A few weeks later, I received my first correspondence from the White House. This included guidelines and information about the process. After completing this process, I then received a silver, 19″ in diameter, Christmas Ornament. Then the fun began. I had to create, design and complete the ornament and have it returned to the White House by October 1st.
The theme was Red, White and Blue and the goal of the ornament was to share the spirit of our district with the world. I decided that I wanted to use images that I had created for clients. When new clients contact us we explain my difference to them. One of the real differences you experience with me is the perfection, planning and artistic difference I put into every single image that I create. This was a perfect opportunity to showcase this. You, my clients, allow me such artistic freedom that I could actually peruse client sessions and select images that would become this Christmas ornament. The ornament is so special that it is placed on the Blue Room Christmas tree. Our nation’s “official” tree. So special that over 60,000 people will personally visit the Blue Room to view it along with the other ornaments on the tree.
I then spent hours and hours combing through some of my favorite images through the years. Here were the final selections and why they were chosen: (keep in mind that my wish would’ve been to put EVERYONE of your images on this ornament!!!)
Dr. Michael and Audrey Guido: This portrait was a Fine Art Water Color portrait I created a few years ago of them. It was their 60th wedding anniversary portrait and Christmas Card portrait that year. Of all the portraits I have created of the Guido’s this is by far my favorite. They have the original hanging in their studio welcoming all who come through the doors. There is much symbolism that is encapsulated in this portrait. The primary one is Faith. There is NO greater example in the world of the power of FAITH than you will experience in Guido Gardens with Michael and Audrey Guido. (Faith, Religion, Wisdom, and their living example of Love) (Metter, Georgia)
Freedom: Freedom is the living mascot of Georgia Southern University. He is also a Bald Eagle which is our National Symbol. This portrait was taken on the sidelines of the Georgia Southern vs. University of Georgia football game earlier this year. With this image, I capture the spirit of not only our country but our district. Both Georgia Southern and University Georgia are well know facilities of higher education, also both known for excellence in sports. (Education, Football, competitiveness, and freedom to express ourselves) (Statesboro and Athens, Georgia)
Emory Jane Betz, daughter of Katrina and Travis Betz: Mom wanted to honor dad who is active duty military and was about to be deployed to Iraq. She wanted a portrait that would honor her husband and his commitment to our freedom. She also wanted to celebrate the incredible joy their daughter had brought to both of them. This portrait has become one of my most recognizable and talked about portraits. Many of you have emailed or commented to me about how this portrait moved you. For the ornament, it represents the importance of our military to our district and country. It reminds us of the price of freedom and the sacrifices so many wives and children make to support their husbands in times of peace and war. (Military, Family Sacrifices, power of love and commitment) (Pooler/Fort Stewart, Georgia)
Trenton, Trevor, Tania and Jeff Cole: I have been their families’ portrait artist since the birth of their first child, Trenton. I could have created ornaments for the entire Blue Room Christmas tree from this families portrait history. They are extremely photogenic and pay me the highest creative compliment in giving me complete creative freedom each and every session. Watch for a great coffee table book from this families’ sessions. In fact, another portrait of their son Trevor helped me capture the Georgia Photographer of the Year award last year. The ornament portrait is one of my favorite family portraits I have created for them. It was captured at Tybee Island at sunset. It displays the special bond of family and the unmatched beauty of the beach. (Family, Beach and Coastal Region) (Tybee Island and Effingham, Georgia)
Hannah, Harrison, Emmi, Jasper, Laci, and Dean Stone: This is one family that keeps me very busy. In fact, their newest addition Laci was not in this portrait. Both mom and dad are pharmacist and small business owners. Mom’s family have farming interests. This portrait was taken on the family farm. It represents agriculture, small business and health care. They also obviously LOVE children. (Agriculture, Small Business, Healthcare, Children) (Metter, Georgia)
Will, John Gregory, Virginia, Kristin and Clark Dean: The Dean’s live in Buckhead and vacation in Savannah. I have photographed the children several times. The last session was very special for two reasons. First, Mom had hand-made Virginia’s dress and second they wanted a fine art portrait to be the centerpiece of their home in Atlanta. We selected Forsyth Park to compliment the colors and design of her home. The children did so well that after we had created the portrait mom wanted we ended up having some fun. The children holding hands walking toward the fountain was the watercolor that I selected for the ornament. Of course, this represents Savannah and it’s history and beauty, but it also represents the important impact tourism has on our district. (rich history and tourism) (Savannah and Buckhead, Georgia)
Edie Grace Grice: Well of course I had to select an image of Edie Grace. The image that came to mind and that fit perfectly with the design was this image. It was created for my healing art collection and has been one of my best sellers in the collection. It was shot at our condo at Tybee. It represents the importance of the beach, the innocence of childhood and the freedom we all experience in life. Whether it is freedom from cancer or some other disease or the freedom to just be you. (the beach, childhood, freedom, survival) (Tybee Island, Georgia)
Olivia Long and Santa. Olivia is the daughter of Melissa and Jason Long: It is a Christmas ornament so I had to get the most famous symbol of Christmas incorporated somewhere. This image was created of this very special little girl with Santa enjoying a bottle of Coke. (Mom works for Coca Cola Bottling United). She also happens to be my niece. Olivia is a tremendously special little girl. She arrived 11 weeks early and spent 40 days in NICU with a grade 4 cerebral hemorrhage. As you can tell from this wonderful image, Olivia is a completely normal three year old. She is a fighter and one day I am sure will join Edie Grace in taking over the world. I could write all day about Olivia and how she inspires me. Every time I look into her precious little eyes I am reminded of the power of prayer and miracles. God sure wanted her to be with us. I assume it will take a little more time to discover the specific purpose of her tenacity – but I predict it will be worth the wait. (Wonderment of Christmas, miracles and the power of modern medicine which we are richly blessed with in our district) (Statesboro, Georgia)
The inspiration and creative energy I have enjoyed through this project has been powerful. As you can tell by reading this, I put a tremendous amount of thought into selecting the perfect images that will tell the story of our Congressional district. Through the years, I have competed with images that I have created for clients and have been blessed to win some prestigious awards through the process. Many of my peers spend months creating and designing images just for the competitions. I have always challenged them to work that hard every day for your clients and the returns will be much greater than the awards. Both the International Photographer of the Year and Georgia Photographer of the Year awards to me were from juried images that I had created for actual client sessions or my Healing Art Line. Several times I have created something just for the competition. It never fails that is the one image that scores the lowest.
This project has allowed me to again prove this point. No matter what your budget is or where you are on the social ladder – the one thing you will know every time that you commission me as your portrait artist is that I will give you my very best. Who knows where your portraits that I create for you may end up?
I also want to thank my incredible team that helped with this project. Two key individuals that hung in there with me through this process is our production coordinator, Josh Riggs and the team leader for my graphic design division, Sean Haynes. These are two very talented guys and I am very happy to have the as part of my team.
The ornament is now official property of the Bush White house and will be archived as such. I am not allowed to replicate the ornament for sale. Many of you have already inquired about that. I have created a replica of the ornament. It is an almost exact replica and was the one we used to test the technique for the final design.
I am loaning this replica to the Guido’s so it can be on display for all of you touring Guido Gardens this Christmas season.
A final note to this post. It is not normal for me to use any names at all — especially names of children. I have requested and received permission from each of these wonderful families to use their images for this project.