It’s not every Vermonter who gets a personal call from Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office. And fewer still are asked to represent the state at the White House — by creating an ornament to hang on its official Christmas tree, an 18-foot fir in the Blue Room. Montpelier artist Maggie Neale, 59, said yes to the challenge, which was to paint or otherwise decorate a plain silver provided ornament in a way that suggested Vermont. “When I got it, in August, I had just broken my arm,” Neale recounts. “So I put it aside and forgot about it. They called in October and said, ‘Where is your ornament?’
“I didn’t want Vermont not to be represented,” Neale continues. So she got to it, opting for collaged text — cut from newspapers and magazines — and layers of tissue paper partially obscuring the words. Obliged to use a patriotic color scheme (this year’s theme is “A Red, White and Blue Christmas”), Neale included red voting-booth curtains on the 6-inch-diameter orb; letters spelling “Vermont” also form an image of the Green Mountains. Normally, she notes, her work employs earthier hues.
The ornaments — 369 of them, solicited from artists in all 50 states — decorate the towering tree, which Laura Bush unveiled to media last Wednesday. Though Neale received an invitation to the event, she opted to stay home and tend to Artisans Hand Craft Gallery in Montpelier, where she works. “For $1000 I could have made the trip,” Neale says, “but these are tough times.” Her work on the ornament was gratis.