Whitman Ornament on White House Christmas Tree
National Park Service News Release
“Holiday in the National Parks” Celebrated at the White House: Whitman Mission Ornament Displayed on the Official White House Christmas Tree
(Walla Walla, WA) – The Whitman Mission National Historic Site ornament is prominently displayed on this year’s official White House Christmas Tree. The tree is the centerpiece of elaborate decorations celebrating the theme of “Holiday in the National Parks.”
“It is an amazing honor for the National Park Service to be selected as the theme for the White House holiday decorations by the President and Mrs. Bush,” said National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar. “Mrs. Bush is the best champion for our national parks, and the beautiful decorations in each state room showcase the natural and historical treasures found in parks throughout the country.”
The tree, located in the Blue Room, is adorned with handmade ornaments representing the country’s 391 National Park Service sites. “Each ornament on the magnificent 18-foot Fraser fir was designed by an artist selected by the park,” said Bomar. “The ornaments tell the stories of our parks, just as our parks tell the stories of our nation.”
Local artist Darwin Turner was chosen to decorate the Whitman Mission ornament. Mr. Turner, who had done design work previously for the park, was given artistic license on how to proceed. Mr. Turner felt it was important to focus on the people involved in the park’s story. After many hours of thought and preparation and over 15 hours of air brushing, the ornament was completed. On the finished ornament Dr. Whitman faces a Cayuse Indian. The Whitman memorial shaft, an iconic symbol of the park, stands between them. Also depicted are a traditional Cayuse tipi, a defiant native astride a horse, and snow capped mountains.
Mr. Turner felt color should play an important role. The twilight scene on the backside symbolizes the changes created by this encounter. Viewed as sunset or sunrise, it represents the end of one era and the beginning of another. The snow on the mountains indicate winter, a time of transition. The swirling reds on the bottom represent the blood and angst of how the encounter ended.
Park superintendent Terry Darby described the staff’s reaction: “We let out a collective gasp of awe as we lifted the richly colored globe from it’s box. Mr. Turner did a truly spectacular job of capturing many aspects of the Whitman Mission story on this ornament.”
The White House holiday displays incorporate the wide variety of natural, cultural, and recreational features preserved by the National Park Service. Models of icons such as the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Statue of Liberty share space with paintings of scenic vistas from Grand Canyon, Zion, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Holiday garlands intertwined with park objects including seashells, pine cones, and gold aspen leaves add to each room’s festive feel.
A highlight of the decorations is a scaled-down, but architecturally accurate, gingerbread reproduction of the south view of the White House, a unit of the National Park Service. The edible masterpiece includes Bush family pets Barney, Miss Beazley, and Willie frolicking on the lawn with moose, elk, raccoons, and other animals found in national parks.
“National Parks commemorate the people, places, and events that define the American experience,” said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne. “I am so appreciative of President Bush’s efforts to recognize the important role of national parks in American society. Our country will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016 and the President has been instrumental in establishing the National Park Centennial Initiative to prepare the parks for the next century.”
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Did You Know?
Great Basin Wild Rye Grass is part of the natural landscape at Whitman Mission. The name Waiilatpu, meaning place of rye grass, was used by the people to name the mission site.