Troy High School Art Club capitalizes on the Capitol Christmas Tree

By Stacy Walenter

The selection of the 2017 Capitol Christmas Tree from the Kootenai National Forest has engendered a lot of excitement, nationwide attention, and civic pride.  It has also stimulated a lot of local creativity.

During the past year, numerous community organizations have created different ornaments that now adorn the tree as it takes center stage in Washington, D.C.  Of the many decorations sent for the tree, 200 of them were large, ceramic fish representing our local species of rainbow trout, bull trout, and cutthroat, made by a collaboration between the Troy High School Art Club and the community.

There were three events during 2017 where the community was invited to help finish the glazing of the ornaments: the club’s art show in the spring, a Forest Service-run session during Troy’s 4th of July festivities, and a final session during Troy High School’s open house in the fall.

With high interest in the larger ornaments, Troy Junior/Senior High School art teacher Jeanie Palmer, who devised the idea for the those ornaments, thought it might be a good idea to make smaller replica ornaments as a fundraiser for the Art Club.

“It’s really tough to do something that matches your club and that there’s interest in,” Palmer said.  “You don’t want to keep selling more chocolates.”

So, just before Thanksgiving, Palmer and her students got fish-shaped cookie cutters and got started.

Palmer initially thought they would make approximately 100 ornaments and sell them at the annual Christmas Bazaar held at the Morrison Elementary School gym on the first Saturday in December.  She estimated they could earn about $300.

But then came the Facebook post.

Palmer made a public post, attempting to gauge interest in the ornaments and help her estimate how many should be made for the craft show.

“I don’t have a million friends on Facebook,” Palmer said, but as of her interview with The Montanian on Nov. 30, 2017, the post had been shared 18 times.  As the students worked after school, a projector shone a spreadsheet on the wall detailing at least 60 people who wanted to buy sets of ornaments, and a majority of those orders were for multiple sets.

450 of the fish had been sold at the time of the interview, and Palmer and her students had made 820.

To make the ornaments, the students first press slices of clay and cut them into fish shapes.  The shapes lay out to dry and are glazed. Palmer then runs them through the kiln.  The whole process can take five or six days from start to finish.

Once an ornament is complete, a hook is added and members of the club write on the back to commemorate that it is a replica of the Capitol Christmas Tree ornaments.

“This is a great group of kids,” Palmer said.  “They come in after school and during their free time.”  The club is active in the school and the community: they paint faces at the annual Roosevelt Park Egg Hunt, make background sets for drama productions,  host an art show in the spring, and they sponsor a yearly scholarship for a graduating student who is going on to study the arts.

Each year, the club also takes a trip out of the area to experience culture in larger cities.  Palmer hopes that, if they wait a year and earn more money, the club may be able to visit a large arts city like San Francisco, thanks in great part to the profits from the ornament sales.

“I had no idea it would be this popular,” Palmer said.  “No idea.”

Despite the breakneck pace of order-filling now going on, the Troy High School Art Club is still welcoming orders.  Individual fish can be purchased for $5 a piece, or a set of three costs $12.  If you’d like to support the club and immortalize the 2017 Capitol Christmas Tree fervor, you can contact Jeanie Palmer at jpalmer@troyk12.org or by calling the Troy High School at 295-4520.