The BIG Tree

IMG_9461When you enter the Mansion this holiday season, you will be amazed by the massive Christmas Tree dominating the front hall. Standing proudly at 22 feet tall, it sets the festive tone for the entire Mansion, as it does every year during the Christmas at Blithewold season. The mastermind behind the beautiful Tree is Joanne Murrman, who has been designing and decorating the Tree for the past five years. Joanne Murman, a retired art teacher, still works part time at local schools in between her busy Christmas decorating schedule. I asked Joanne about the process she uses when designing the Tree, since it’s such a huge undertaking. She always begins with a sketch, she said. Drawing on her her artistic background, Joanne considers three main ideas when designing the Tree: “color, shape, and form.” She likes to create contrasting tones each year, alternating between deep, rich colors and metallic, glitzy motifs, while always staying true to that year’s overall Christmas at Blithewold theme.


Another key aspect of Joanne’s design is to create “layers of interpretation” throughout the Tree. She points out that it is important to incorporate the historical wealth of Blithewold into the Tree, as well as the fun holiday decor. This year, the Tree features copies of letters from the Archives on ornaments and party crackers crafted by members of the Benjamin Church Senior Center. Joanne has always made a special effort to involve a community group in the decorating process each year. In addition to Benjamin Church, in past years she has enlisted help from the Girl Scouts, students at the Colt Andrews School, and participants at Camp Sequoia, the summer camp at Blithewold. She is already looking to enlist a veteran’s group for next year. When you see the Tree this year, be sure to take note of the adorable party crackers, created with joy by members of our own community!

IMG_9455As I’m sure you can imagine, it takes some master planning to pull off such a grand project. Joanne works with a small team of seven volunteers who begin helping her in early September. They begin first with the design process and general “creation” of the Tree. The Tree itself is one of the last things to go up among the decorating going on throughout the Mansion, and it is quite a production! Once the Tree is up and stabilized, Joanne’s team and a group of our dedicated garden volunteers decorate all 22 feet of the magnificent Christmas Tree. The decorators work in waves, beginning with the draping of the garlands, then the party crackers are placed, after which the ball ornaments get hung, and so on until the entire Tree is filled.

I asked Joanne if she had some of favorite Tree’s from years past. She definitely had a hard time picking just one, but she said she’ll always have a special place in her heart for her first Tree, for which the theme was “Tiffany, Tinsel, and Toys.” On this Tree, special origami swans with a wish written on each one by children in the community were carefully placed throughout the branches. Another favorite was the Tree from two years ago, themed “A Grand Tour of Europe,” which was very red monochromatic. These are just some of the highlights of all of Joanne’s masterpieces.

IMG_9506The Big Tree at Blithewold contributes greatly to the feelings of warmth, friendship, and holiday spirit throughout the Christmas at Blithewold season. The estate has always been a gathering place for friends and family to celebrate many events, and continuing the tradition, the Big Tree is the focal point for this yearly special events. When you visit this Christmas at Blithewold season, be sure to take a moment or two to stop and circle the Tree, to savor the magical masterpiece of a Christmas Tree that Joanne and her talented volunteers have created for us this year, it is absolutely enchanting!

To follow the continuing progress of Blithewold’s holiday transformation, visit our Facebook page and Twitter. To see more photographs of Christmas at Blithewold, please stop by our Flickr and Pinterest!

Kelly Sobolewski
Roger Williams University ’16
Blithewold Communications and Web Design Intern