Trimming Trees with Tenderness

by Amy Groh
This year, we checked in with several local charities that are featuring special ornaments for the 2007 holiday season. The Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception are offering exclusive Rolan Johnson ornaments designed in the ancient mosaic style. The Alzheimer’s Association partnered with glass artist Hiram Toraason to create unique hand-blown glass ornaments which will dress up any tree. Easter Seals, artist Amy Boettcher, ArtsPartners, WMBD and five ambassador families teamed up to produce unique ornaments which will be auctioned off later this year. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital used children’s artwork for a number of different ornaments, the sales of which will fund the treatment and care for young cancer patients. Finally, Wilton Armetale, maker of metallic alloy serveware, once again produced an ornament designed by The Hayloft Shop’s Becky Schotthofer. While every ornament is different in design, the Peorians involved with each are equally devoted to advancing the work of their organizations with a bit of holiday cheer.

Tiles of Love

The Rolan Johnson ornaments offered by the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception are simply stunning! Johnson, the owner of a printing shop in Peoria, made it his personal mission to share the true meaning of Christmas with others. In 1959, he began to print Christmas cards each year to display in the window of his shop. Johnson used his talent as a screen printer to make his cards in the biblical art form of mosaics using enamel paint.

After choosing a picture, Johnson sketched and made a full-scale drawing of the scene which would become Christmas cards. In order to make his mosaics true to their name, he colored each tile by hand until it looked just right, a process that took as many days as there were colors (usually 12 to 14). With each card came a special message which summed up the true reason for the season.

The Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception now sponsor a limited-edition, collectible Rolan Johnson Christmas ornament each year. From 1995 until his death in 2000, Johnson allowed the sisters to produce ornaments using his Christmas card prints. This became a major fundraiser for them—one which Johnson’s family graciously allowed them to continue after his passing.

The 2007 Rolan Johnson Christmas ornament is entitled “Love” and is the third and last in a series. The message which accompanies this particular series is “In His love, there is peace.” The ornament is two-sided and framed in 24 karat gold plating on brass which copies the cross pattern on the original card. Each ornament comes encased in a velvet-lined box which includes a numbered certificate of authenticity and is available for purchase at and select Peoria retailers.

Follow Your Art at Christmas

Easter Seals teamed up with artist Amy Boettcher and Suzette Boulais, executive director of ArtsPartners, to produce a handful of unique ornaments for this holiday season. “We had been looking to celebrate the holidays in a way that is rich with our mission,” said Norma Rossi, Easter Seals’ vice president of marketing. A board member came up with the initial idea which sparked an afternoon of artistic creation and friendly bonding at Something Unique, Boettcher’s art studio in Bartonville.

The phrase “Follow Your Art” can be spotted throughout the studio on walls, wood and t-shirts, and that’s exactly what five Easter Seals children did! Boettcher created an entire ambiance, researching and perfecting several ornaments which could be made by children with a wide range of abilities, and worked with them as they created their unique designs. Suzette Boulais of ArtsPartners and several WMBD personalities were there to join in the fun and lend a hand.

This is the first year Easter Seals has done an event like this, but they hope it will prove to be successful enough to become an annual affair. All of the ornaments will be auctioned off at the Easter Seals holiday party with families, staff and volunteers, the proceeds of which will go to Easter Seals.

Mackenzie Carlson, seven years old; Anna Jain, five years old; Payton McSimov, seven-and-a-half years old; Breanna Becker, five years old; and Matthew Moses, four years old, all came together in a place where ability level didn’t matter and everyone’s presence was celebrated. When talking about seeing kids with all different issues, Anna’s mom, Liz, said, “As a mother you develop a much greater understanding for other parents and what they have to deal with.” It was certainly refreshing to see a group of people work side by side to participate in a fundraiser for the organization they are so grateful to be a part of.

Holidays in Glass

This year, the Alzheimer’s Association paired with artist Hiram Toraason to produce the first in a series of specially-designed ornaments for the central Illinois chapter.

A graduate of Southern Illinois University, Toraason lives and works in his studio in Peoria. (See page 8 for more on Toraason.) As a full-time glass blower, Toraason is able to put all of his time and energy into creating one-of-a-kind pieces. When blowing glass, artists are able to utilize color much like painters do. Specific to glass, however, is the ability of viewers to interact with the glass as colors and textures create movement and magnification.

During the formation of glass pieces, the uneducated eye can’t see much difference in colors, but Toraason can. He’s able to create ornaments with mingled colors and textures which are much more discernable after they have had time to cool.

All proceeds from the sale of Toraason’s ornaments go to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Restoring Peoria with Ornaments

Each year, Becky Schotthofer of The Hayloft Shops designs a Christmas ornament for Wilton Armetale which features a historical building in Peoria. A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of these collectible ornaments goes toward the restoration and preservation of the featured building. This year, the ornament features the recently renovated Sacred Heart Church in downtown Peoria. Armetale produces individually hand-crafted items made of a mixture of ten different alloys. Expert craftsmen pour the molten metal into a die-cut sand mold one at a time, resulting in one-of-a-kind pieces.

Schotthofer has been designing Christmas ornaments for Armetale since 1990. Previous ornaments have featured local landmarks like the Peoria courthouse, GAR Hall, Pettengill-Morron House, Peoria Public Library and City Hall. The ornaments are made in the United States from die casts of drawings by Schotthofer.

Children Design Treatment

Every year, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital offers Christmas ornaments designed by patients. A few new designs are made each holiday season to add to the mix of patterns from previous years. This holiday season, St. Jude will feature seven different designs—a Christmas tree with presents, Santa with his reindeer, an angel, children sledding, a snowman in the snow, earth and inspirational stars. Each ornament is hand-blown and hand-painted and comes with a St. Jude logo charm. All proceeds from ornament sales go toward the treatment and care for children with cancer. a&s