loudoun

Upland Hunting in The Piedmont 

Photography by Georgina Preston

Creative Direction by Jennifer Gray for Middleburg Life 

Hunters: Tom Rice (The Plains), Annie Bishop (Middleburg), Brian Courtney (Middleburg). 

Hunting Dogs: Boykin Spaniels, owned by Annie Bishop. 

Vehicle: Land Rover by Expedition Vintage. 

HEXy, the camo green Rover, is a Series 3 109 Land Rover. Owned by John Carter. 

Location: Private farm in Upperville, Virginia owned by Jacob and Jacqui Porter.

Annie’s look: Dubarry vest, blouse, and boots, sold at Tri-County, Feeds, Fashion, Finds.  

Annie’s hat is by Jack Murphy/Ireland, pheasant feather hat fastener by Spruced Plume, Haley Fitzgerald sold at Highcliffe Clothiers

Brian’s look: Dubarry pheasant tie, Dubarry cap, Dubarry cable knit sweater, Dubarry boots and Barbour jacket sold at Tri-County, Feeds, Fashion, Finds.  

Guns: Baretta Silver Pigeons shotguns in 20 and 28 gauges. Owned by Annie Bishop. 

Tom’s look: Barbour jacket, Dubarry pheasant tie, and men’s shirt all available at Tri-County, Feeds, Fashion, Finds.

 

This article first appeared in the November 2021 Issue.

A Conversation with Cinematographer Ari Wegner

A Conversation with Cinematographer Ari Wegner

Written by Kaitlin Hill

What do Lady Macbeth, a trending Twitter stripper saga, and a rancher from 1925 Montana have in common? The answer is Australian-born cinematographer Ari Wegner’s talent for translating stories to screen. At just 37, Wegner’s resume is already impressive. She’s an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Award Nominee (2016), British Independent Film Awards Winner (2017), and Toronto International Film Festival Artisan Award Winner (2021). During her first visit to the Middleburg Film Festival, Wegner presented her film “The Power of the Dog” and took home the well-deserved award for Distinguished Cinematography. Starting behind-the-scenes to the big screen reveal, Wegner shares her process for producing stunning films and how she and director Jane Campion bring “The Power of the Dog” to life.

When asked how she picks projects as different as “The Power of the Dog” (2021), a moody Western with a dark secret, and “Zola” (2020) a stripper’s story that starts in a Detroit Hooter’s and unravels over Twitter, Wegner says, “It’s really the combination of the director and the script … it’s a kind of alchemy or synchronicity of those two. Once I read the script and decide that it looks interesting, I’ll meet the director and see if there is chemistry.” 

For “The Power of the Dog,” Wegner paired up with writer and director Jane Campion to adapt the 1967 Thomas Savage novel of the same name. Before learning the lighting of the landscape, framing the shots, and curating the color palette, Wegner starts new projects with a deep understanding of the director she is working with. 

“I love working with directors and really getting to know them,” Wegner says. “You find out how they see the world, what’s important to them, what interests them, how detail-oriented they are, and what details they will fixate on … I love to use that pre-production time to get to know [a director], and then be able to create a shot that, hopefully, they are going to love based on what I know about them.” 

In getting to know Campion, Wegner discovered a common interest in art and artists like American realist painter Andrew Wyeth. “Jane has a fine arts background, and my father is a visual artist,” Wegner says. “So, we both had a pretty good common language in art. And usually, one of the first things I do when I start a new project is look at art. It really is a color palette. Or look at the minimalism of Wyeth’s work, I really love that. There is a real simplicity and minimalism of people in rooms or people in nature.” 

Part-drama, part-romance, all-Western, “The Power of the Dog” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, tells the story of the Burbank Brothers and a twisted year of manipulation, intimidation, and gritty ranch work that takes place in the shadow of a menacing mountain which could fairly be considered an additional main character. 

Avoiding any spoilers, as relationships shift and minds unravel, Wegner shapes the story with captivatingly simple shots and obvious influence from Wyeth. Transitions take place through open windows with unobstructed views of the imposing mountain in the distance. And empty rooms minimally laid with color schemes seemingly straight from Wyeth’s brush increase the feeling of isolation, so crucial to the film. 

“We knew that we wanted to have a really restricted color palette … and Wyeth’s work really captured it,” Wegner says. “There is something in the atmosphere of his work that I like, the feel, the loneliness, or desperation. [His work] doesn’t romanticize the places. There is some kind of unease in his work that is hard to define.” 

More than nailing this color palette, for Wegner transporting audiences to 1925 Montana and creating believable characters was about understanding the landscape, thus creating a set that felt “lived in.” “The landscape, in this film, in particular, is more than just a setting because the characters, especially Phil, have such a strong emotional connection to the place,” Wegner says. 

Stills from Ari Wegner’s film. Photos courtesy of Netflix.

For Phil Burbank, the film’s lead played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the sprawling family is part of his personality. “We wanted [the landscape] to be beautiful, striking, and hopefully, iconic,” Wegner says. “And we were also really interested in tiny things that make up a place – whether it is a micro shot of the grass or a big wide shot of the house with the mountain behind it.” 

Beyond character and narrative development, Wegner’s blend of minuscule detail and big picture shots results in an audience experience that is immersive, captivating, and almost unnervingly real. This feat is particularly impressive, given the convincingly classic Americana Western was filmed in New Zealand. “Obviously, not all of New Zealand looks like Montana … It took some planning to make it convincing,” Wegner says, joking. “We did a lot of research and looked at photos of the landscape. I actually did a lot of driving around on Google Maps, just clicking along the road to see if this feels like New Zealand.” 

In addition to pre-production research, onset framing was essential too. “We definitely needed to choose angles that worked,” Wegner says. And where others might lean on green or blue screens, Wegner took a different approach aimed at achieving authenticity. “We actually ended up printing these billboard-sized backdrops of photos that we shot on location. We printed them, stretched them out, and had them in the studio.” Filming with the printed backdrops, “allowed me to be riskier with my work because I knew what the final [look] was, versus having to be a bit safe because I couldn’t visualize what was going on outside the windows,” Wegner says. “That was something that started as a challenge, but ended up being incredibly satisfying and also just a super cool optical illusion.” 

Perhaps optical illusionist is a better job title for Wegner, as her work on “The Power of the Dog” is nothing short of true movie magic. She pairs her razor-sharp vision with a willingness to let a film “reveal itself,” resulting in immersive viewing experiences that stay with her audiences and almost implore them to watch her films a second, if not third or fourth time. 

“I think I can adapt to any style because I can break down the elements of something and pull them apart … but the really interesting part for me is knowing what image I want to create and then to create it,” she says. “I start to plan and then it starts to reveal itself even as I am shooting it.”

Though her next project is yet unknown, her success at the Middleburg Film Festival with “The Power of the Dog” (available to stream on Netflix starting December 1, 2021), it is a safe bet that Wegner’s talent will only continue to “reveal itself” and she is certainly a cinematographer worth watching. ML

This article first appeared in the November 2021 Issue.

Notable Moments From Middleburg Film Festival 2021

Notable Moments From Middleburg Film Festival 2021

Written by Kaitlin Hill

Photos by Shannon Finney

Celebrating its ninth year and a return to fully in-person screenings, the 2021 Middleburg Film Festival did not disappoint. Passholders and ticket buyers were treated to celebrity appearances, fascinating Q&As, special spotlight events, well-deserved tributes to some of Hollywood’s finest, and, as always, a wonderfully diverse set of films with something for everyone. Here is a look back at some of the highlights from the mid-October weekend hosted by Sheila Johnson. 

Left: Women in Film luncheon hosted by Greenhill Winery with Red Rocket cast, Brittney Rodriguez, Suzanna Son, and Bree Elrod. Right: Women in Film luncheon hosted by Greenhill Winery with composer Kathryn Bostic, songwriter Diane Warren, actor Ann Dowd, and composers Lesley Barber and Amie Doherty.

BIG NAMES HEADLINE THE WEEKEND

Past Middleburg Film Festivals have always hosted their share of celebrities, and this year was no exception. Day two of the festival opened with a screening of “The Lost Daughter” at The Salamander Resort and Spa, followed by a tribute to lead actress Dakota Johnson. During the tribute and conversation, Johnson was awarded the actor spotlight award for her role opposite Academy Award winner Olivia Colman.

Also on-site throughout the weekend was actress Ann Dowd, perhaps best known for her role as the brutal Aunt Lydia in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Dowd attended the film festival as a representative of the film “Mass,” which debuted Friday afternoon at The Hill School. Dowd not only attended the post-screening tribute to her, but she also mixed, mingled, and posed for photos at the Women in Film luncheon at Greenhill Winery.

“Capote” (2005) and “Star Trek” (2009) fans will have recognized actor Clifton Collins Jr. who showed up to present his new film “Jockey” in which he plays the main character, Jackson Silva. In a post-screening conversation with Clayton Davis from Variety, Collins Jr. delighted viewers with anecdotes from filming on a live track with real jockeys. “I got there a week and a half early to hang out with the jockeys – spending all day with them, helping them with the horses, whatever I needed to do,” he says. “I didn’t want to be ‘the actor.’ I told [my producer] I don’t care if my house has burned down. I don’t want to know until I wrap because I have to be here.” His dedication to the project earned him a standing ovation as the credits rolled and the distinguished performance award.

Left: Lead actress Dakota Johnson “The Lost Daughter” at The Salamander Resort and Spa, MFF.
Right: Post-screening conversation with actor Clifton Collins Jr. from “Jockey.” 

A highly anticipated appearance of the weekend was that of actor, director, and five-time Academy Award nominee, Kenneth Branagh who came to Middleburg to showcase his autobiographical hit “Belfast.” “Belfast” was the sold-out centerpiece film of Saturday night with moviegoers eager to view the film following its success in Telluride and hear from Branagh in the subsequent Q&A session. Branagh also greeted festival attendees Sunday morning on the Salamander Resort Middleburg Terrace for a well-deserved and illuminating tribute. Those up early enough were treated to an artfully crafted highlight reel of Branagh’s best work from “Othello” to “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Additionally, Branagh sat down with festival advisory board member John Horn for a conversation covering Branagh’s life and career where he described his latest project about childhood in Northern Ireland as “tender.” He also regaled the crowd with some of his favorite on-set moments with cast members Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Gerard Horan, and Jude Hill. For his work as the film’s director, Branagh was awarded the director spotlight award by Sheila Johnson.

RECOGNITION OF WOMEN IN FILM

Another bright spot of the weekend was the attention given to women in the film industry. Saturday morning’s Women in Film Music Conversation at the Salamander Resort Middleburg Terrace highlighted four talented film composers and songwriters including Kathryn Bostic (“Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America”), Dianne Warren (“Four Good Days”), Lesley Barber (“Manchester by the Sea”), and Amie Doherty (“Spirit Untamed”) in a panel hosted by Jazz Tangcay, Variety’s Senior 

Artisans Editor. Women took the spotlight again at the Women in Film luncheon hosted by Greenhill Winery. The afternoon event was attended by Britney Rodriguez, Suzanna Son, and Bree Elrod from the film “Red Rocket,” as well as Ann Dowd from “Mass” who shared with attendees the realities of being a woman in the business.

Beyond luncheons and panels, notable women dominated the screen in the films on dock through the weekend. “Spencer” and “Julia” told the tales of real-life icons Princess Diana and Julia Childs. And “Passing,” “Prayers for the Stolen,” “Petit Maman,” and “The Lost Daughter” centered around female figures as well, powerfully sharing their stories.

But the theme of powerful women perhaps most notably extended to the awards granted throughout the weekend. In addition to Dakota Johnson’s actor spotlight award, Ann Dowd was recognized with the Agnès Varda trailblazing film artist award, and “The Power of the Dog” cinematographer Ari Wegner was awarded the distinguished cinematographer award.

Left: John Horn, a host on KPCC and a member of the festival’s advisory board, with Kenneth Branagh on stage at Salamander. Middle: Tim Gordon (from DC Radio/Keeping it Real with Film Gordon/co-President of the Washington Area Film Critics Association), Benjamin Price from Kids First! and Washington Post Chief Film Critic Ann Hornaday. Right: Filmgoers at MFF.

A HEARTWARMING WINNER

As always, attendees were given the chance to rate each film with one, two, three, or four stars immediately after viewing by ripping a slip of paper and returning it to one of the festival’s many helpful volunteers. Of the 34 films representing every genre, including documentaries and international entries, Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” was awarded the audience’s highest honor of top narrative prize. The film, which was sold out for both screenings, documents Branagh’s Northern Irish upbringing through the character “Buddy,” played by Jude Hill. Set in the 1960s, at the beginning of The Troubles, the black and white film blends meaningful humor with moments of tense violence, for a well-rounded film deserving of every laugh, tear, and standing ovation it received.

The crowd cheers at MFF for the Belfast Q&A with Kenneth Branagh. 

Branagh described the film best in his Sunday morning conversation with John Horn. He said writing this story was, “something riddled with pain and difficulty and loss, but through which there must be some way to find hope and a future. The film seems to be opening a portal for other people’s experiences of their own childhood. And that is the big thrill.” ML

This article first appeared in the November 2021 Issue.

A Sweet Place Opens

A Sweet Place Opens In Middleburg

Written by Dulcy B. Hooper | Photos by Joanne Maisano

The celebratory grand opening, ribbon cutting, and signage installation are still in the works, but Raymer’s Homemade Candies opened its Middleburg shop in June, a delightful treat for chocolate lovers.

Raymer’s Homemade Candies is a family-run business with its primary location in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It is owned by Mark and Sue Raymer, “with a lot of support from their children and grandchildren in both the candy-making and operational side of the business.”

In 1967, Mark Raymer, serving as an apprentice to his father-in-law in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, learned the art of “pan candy.” Pan candies are recipes based on the natural caramelization of fresh cream and sugar, poured into pans or hand-rolled. In 2001, Raymer’s Homemade Candies was launched in its Doylestown location, using the traditional recipes from the late 1880s. As an addition to the original recipes, Raymer uses only pure Belgian chocolate in his creations.

Mark Raymer still does most of the candy-making, with help from son Cory Raymer and son-in-law Kelly Kujath. The Raymers’ daughter, Lisa Kujath, runs the retail portion of the family business, and Cayce Rockhill, whose significant other is Cory Raymer, manages the Virginia location.

With Raymer family members living in the Ashburn area, the business expanded to Ashburn in 2018, opening its local outpost at One Loudoun. That location closed last December, one of the many businesses impacted by the coronavirus.

Rockhill said that she and Cory are enthusiastic about opening Raymer’s Homemade Candies in Middleburg. The Raymer name will be familiar for knowledgeable sports fans: Cory Raymer played in the National Football League for 11 seasons, playing with the Washington Redskins from 1995-2000 and 2004-2005 and with the San Diego Chargers from 2001-2003. He was inducted into the University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012. Raymer’s jersey (#52) is prominently featured on one wall in the shop, overlooking a shelf of chocolates.

“We knew we would be opening in another location,” Rockhill said, who managed the Ashburn location and now manages the Middleburg shop. “When we were at Loudoun One, we had a lot of great customers, but the difference is that it was more of a ‘nine to five’ kind of business community. There are a lot of restaurants there, but we found that people didn’t just come for the day to wander around, walk up and down the street and stop into shops the way they do here.”

The chocolates are still made daily in Doylestown, and in another family endeavor, the Pennsylvania and Virginia members of the team meet at the halfway mark to keep the flow of chocolates coming to Middleburg.

“It is a close-knit family,” Rockhill said. “So it’s almost like ‘date night’ — we drive halfway to meet each other, have lunch or dinner and catch up with each other. Then we load up the chocolates to come back here.”

Rockhill said that she and Cory had been coming to Middleburg for several years prior to the shop’s opening. “We dined here, we enjoyed cocktails here, we shopped here. We love Middleburg and appreciated the small-town feeling it has.” The couple felt that this community was “conducive to what we wanted to do — a very natural expansion for us.” Rockhill added that she “likes knowing customers by their first name and knowing what they like — it’s part of what makes this special for me.”


On a recent visit, Rockhill was busy decorating the shop with a fall theme in anticipation of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Raymer’s is beautifully (one might even say “tastefully”) laid out, with an abundance of homemade candies that will beckon to anyone with a love of chocolate. In a nod to the local community’s interests, an assortment of horse heads and horseshoes can be found on a prominent shelf, and visitors can arrange to have wine bottles dipped in chocolate.

Whether to purchase a gift for others or a well-deserved treat for yourself, Raymer’s is well worth a visit. With chocolates of every kind, shoppers can find such fall novelty candies as jelly pumpkins, sour pumpkins, gummy pumpkins, and candy corn. The caramel apples cannot be far behind! ML

Raymer’s Candies
19 South Madison Street Middleburg, Va. 20117 540-326-8909 | RaymersCandies.com

This article first appeared in the October 2021 Issue.

StoneSprings Hospital Center Awarded Hospital Accreditation from the Joint Commission

StoneSprings Hospital Center | Jan. 14, 2019

StoneSprings Hospital Center today announced it has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Hospital Accreditation by demonstrating continuous compliance with its performance standards. The Gold Seal of Approval® is a symbol of quality that reflects an organization’s commitment to providing safe and effective patient care.

“StoneSprings Hospital Center is pleased to receive accreditation from The Joint Commission, the premier health care quality accrediting body in the nation,” said Karen Harris, Vice President of Quality, StoneSprings Hospital Center. “This accreditation demonstrates our dedication to providing the highest quality care in a safe environment for our patients.”

StoneSprings Hospital underwent a rigorous, unannounced onsite survey October 17-19, 2018. During the review, a team of Joint Commission surveyors evaluated compliance with hospital standards related to several areas, including emergency management, environment of care, infection prevention and control, leadership, and medication management. Surveyors also conducted onsite observations and interviews.

“Joint Commission accreditation provides hospitals with the processes needed to improve in a variety of areas from the enhancement of staff education to the improvement of daily business operations,” said Mark G. Pelletier, RN, MS, chief operating officer, Division of Accreditation and Certification Operations, The Joint Commission. “In addition, our accreditation helps hospitals enhance their risk management and risk reduction strategies. We commend StoneSprings Hospital Center for its efforts to become a quality improvement organization.”

The Joint Commission’s hospital standards are developed in consultation with health care experts and providers, measurement experts and patients. The standards are informed by scientific literature and expert consensus to help hospitals measure, assess and improve performance.

Meet Middleburg: Catherine Wycoff, Physical Therapist, Feldenkrais Practitioner

Story and photo by Kerry Phelps Dale

The thing about Catherine Wycoff is that although she is very friendly and accessible, she’s difficult to describe. She has so many talents and skills, so many degrees and certifications, that’s she’s hard to reduce down to something simple. One thing that rings true in her professional experience and current endeavors is that her main purpose seems to be helping people.

Every Friday, Catherine comes to her Middleburg studio on Federal Street to teach her Feldenkrais Method class. A few of her regulars sing her praises like a Baptist choir on Sunday. They have total faith in both Catherine and the Feldenkrais Method, which the founder, Moshe Feldenkrais, touted will “…make the impossible, possible; the possible, easy; and the easy, elegant.”

If that quote doesn’t bring you closer to understanding the method, try this—moving without pain through improving “kinesthetic sense”—the ability to sense, feel and coordinate easy, effective movement. It’s rewiring the brain to move more efficiently and easily. It is an effective approach used by athletes, people with special needs, seniors, and even musicians. Born and raised in Belgium, Catherine has lived and been educated all over the world. “My husband works for the state department, so I have lived a lot of places,” she says. An avid horsewoman, Catherine owns, rides and uses horses for therapy as well as providing rehabilitative therapy to horses. She lives in Lovettsville with her husband and has two children in college. She finds Middleburg to be a comforting reminder of small European towns and feels right at home with the town and countryside that reveres the horse.

Though the Feldenkrais Method is a bit elusive, the classes are not. The owner of Kinetic Balance invites you to join her for a Friday class at noon, at The Studio on West Federal Street.  “If you know what you do, you can do what you want,” she quotes Feldenkrais. “It has to do with awareness: Awareness is the key,” explains Catherine. For more information on the method, visit www.kineticbalance.com.

This article first appeared in the January 2019 issue of Middleburg Life. 

A Look Back at the 2018 International Gold Cup

Photos by John Scott Nelson Photography

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these riders from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. While the International Gold Cup like the United States Postal Service has no official motto, the die hard Gold Cup fans could steal the postal workers motto for this October’s event.

Despite the not so cheery weather, fans donned their best hats and put on their smiling faces to brave the damp weather and enjoy what turned out to be an exciting day at Great Meadows on Saturday, Oct. 27.The lush green grass was a bit wet and made for some muddy boots, but the steeplechase races went on and the horses didn’t seem to mind. The day didn’t go to the dogs. However, the entertaining Terrier Races in the paddock did start the day and grabbed everyone’s attention. 

This article first appeared in the December 2018 Issue of Middleburg Life.

 

Virginia’s Largest Private Land Trust Protects Another 182.4 Acres in Albemarle County

Virginia’s Largest Private Land Trust | December 12, 2018

The Land Trust of Virginia, holding more conservation easements than any other private land trust in the Commonwealth, is pleased to announce that 182.4 acres of entirely forested land, located southeast of Batesville, Virginia, is forever protected through the landowner’s donation of a conservation easement.  Located in Albemarle County, Miran Forest has been protected with the intention of providing public access in perpetuity by the landowners, the American Environment Foundation.

The landowners have protected their property with the intention of providing public access in perpetuity for hiking and quiet enjoyment.  There is an existing public trail on the property, located along the forested steep western slopes of Long Arm Mountain.  The trail leads to the highest point on the property at the peak of the mountain, known locally as High Top.  From the peak, hikers can enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding valley floors and nearby mountains.  Craig Davis, head of the American Environment Foundation said, “Our primary interest in protecting the property is to allow the wildlife a safe habitat and for people to enjoy the quiet of this beautiful mountainside.”

This property is highly visible from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway and portions of the Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest, making it a highly valuable property to protect in perpetuity.  The recording of this easement further enhances the existing land protections in the area.  Directly adjacent to Miran Forest is a property consisting of 206 acres under conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.  Additionally, there are numerous other conservation easements in close proximity adding important protections to the Virginia countryside.

Located approximately 2.5 miles north is another property in conservation easement with the Land Trust of Virginia, the Miller School of Albemarle.  This 637.4-acre conservation easement was recorded in 2016 and will forever protect numerous natural resources, open space, and scenic views for all to enjoy, especially the students of the school.  This property could have been divided into 34 different properties.  Both conservation easements, over the Miller School and Miran Forest, have no division rights retained, meaning that neither can ever be divided for development.

While a lot of work is being done in Albemarle County, there is still a lot more to do to ensure that bucolic Virginia is protected for generations to come.  The Land Trust of Virginia invites landowners, interested in hearing more, to contact Sally Price at sally@landtrustva.org.

 

Hanging History: The Official White House Christmas Ornaments

Story by Kaitlin Hill | Photos by Randy Litzinger

The tradition of decorating Christmas trees can often turn into a walk down memory lane, with each ornament acting as a ghost of Christmases past. Since ornaments are often given as gifts, the markers of special occasions or, sometimes embarrassing, reminders of now-grown children’s elementary artistic pursuits, they hold their own unique histories and serve as jolly juggernauts of nostalgia. Add string lights, weaving ribbon or twinkling tinsel, and the finished fir can tell the intimate story of a family, a new couple or a set of lifelong friends.

As Americans, our shared history is boldly and beautifully told across the country, and right here in Middleburg, on towering trees and magnificent mantels that are bedecked in Official White House Christmas Ornaments. For local Nancy Novak McMahon, the ornaments are both patriotic and personal. She orders multiples each year and has the entire collection—all 37—which she displays every Christmas. She received her first as a gift from a co-worker after moving to Virginia from Chicago.

The first White House Christmas Ornament, a two-dimensional golden angel with outstretched wings and a festive horn, was released in 1981. It bears a simple inscription, “Christmas 1981. The White House.”

“I had a new co-worker who, the first Christmas that we worked together, as a kind of welcome to the Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. area, gave me the White House Christmas Ornament, which I had never even known existed.” She continues, “I just thought it was the neatest thing and every year for eight or ten years, she always gave me an ornament as my Christmas present.” To Nancy, the ornament is special because of its ties to the Washington region and friends she made while living here.

Even since moving to Middleburg, McMahon carries on ritual by buying one for herself, and giving them as gifts, too. She even sends two as far as Holland, one to a close friend and the other to her friend’s in-laws, who recently downsized.

The White House Historical Association’s 2018 White House Christmas Ornament honors President Harry S. Truman. This ornament is designed to illustrate three significant changes made by him during his administration, one to the Presidential Seal, and two to the White House itself.

“They let me know, the ornaments made the cut…the [current] ornament is still up every year and has a place of honor in their new apartment.” They watch for McMahon’s package with the newly released ornament each year. She laughs, “It’s quite the tradition.”The ornaments started as part of an outreach initiative by the White House Historical Association (WHHA). Founded by Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961, the non-profit and purposefully non-partisan association was created as a means to educate Americans about the rich history of the White House. Twenty years and six presidents later, including her husband Ronald, former first lady Nancy Reagan launched the White House Ornaments as a continuation of Kennedy’s focus on historical preservation and education.

The first ornament was released in 1981, a two-dimensional golden angel with outstretched wings and a festive horn. It bears a simple inscription, “Christmas 1981. The White House.” Over the years, the ornaments became more elaborate, including colors, three-dimensional designs and even moving pieces.

In 1984, the fourth ornament is the first to depict a president’s face. Thomas Jefferson sits regally in a circle of gold, called “Jefferson’s Medal of Peace.” And in 1987, the first touches of color are added—evergreen wreaths with Christmas red ribbons adorn the “White House Doors.” The 1999 Lincoln-inspired collectible is a golden book inlaid with a pensive looking Honest Abe that even opens. The portrait was painted by George Healy and still hangs in the State Dining Room.

The 2007 White House Christmas ornament honors the first administration of President Grover Cleveland.

Not only do these annually revealed Christmas treasures showcase specific presidents, but they also capture moments in time and executive mansion memories that may have been forgotten. The 2016 edition is a gleaming red and gold miniature representation of the fire trucks that responded to the 1929 Christmas Eve blaze at the White House during a children’s gathering. Herbert Hoover, who was president at the time, invited the same children back the following year and presented them all with toy versions of the red engine as a keepsake.Each year, a new designer is selected to conceptualize the ornament. Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association says, “Over the years we have used various sources of design. We have had a competition among professional designers, a competition among design school students and we have used the design team at the manufacturer of our ornaments in Rhode Island.” He adds, “From time to time we even receive an unsolicited design.”

The process of choosing a design is collaborative. “We talk it through as a staff and with members of our board of directors and react to several designs,” McLaurin said. Sometimes the WHHA even asks artists to team up. “Occasionally, we will like a couple things from one design and a couple of things from another design and we will ask those designers to work together.”

As for selecting which president to feature each year, that decision was made long ago. “Fortunately for us, back in the Reagan administration when the idea was first presented to Mrs. Reagan to do a Christmas ornament, the decision was made then that we would feature a different president each year and we would do it sequentially.” He continues, “It started with Washington and we have now worked our way up to Harry Truman. That takes the politics out of it, that takes any favoritism out of it when we know that the next year, it’s the next president.”

The 2003 White House Christmas Ornament honors President Ulysses S. Grant and his family.

As McLaurin mentioned, 2018’s ornament honors Harry S. Truman, and highlights the renovations he made to the White House while in office. The front of this delicate white and gold ornament features the Truman Balcony added between 1947 and 1948. On the flipside, you’ll find The Blue Room, complete with an extravagantly decorated Christmas tree. Perhaps the most significant of Truman-era changes is seen in the Presidential Seal. Prior to Truman’s presidency, the American eagle’s gaze focused on instruments of war clutched in his left talon. Truman shifted the eagle’s focus to its right talon, which grasp olive branches of peace.Once a concept is selected, ChemArt, a veteran-owned small business—the same manufacturer that has produced every ornament from the start—is trusted to bring the vision to life. McLaurin says, “They have worked with us since the ornament started. They know us. They know the ornaments.”

Customers know the ornaments, too. And as McLaurin tells it, collectors are often eager to purchase the next in line. “There is a big excitement about what the ornament is going to be.” He adds, “Once you start collecting, you have the one the next year. Even more than that, once you start giving them as gifts, the recipient expects to receive one next year.”  Tracking down the ornaments is easily done, and if you happen to miss a year, don’t worry. The entire collection is available for order on the White House Historical Association’s website; shop.whitehousehistory.org.

The Christmas Sleigh in Middleburg is one of the only shops in Virginia to carry the entire collection. “We are the largest supplier of this ornament in Virginia. We carry the entire series and we have them in stock all the time,” said Linda Tripp Rausch, who owns the Christmas Sleigh with her husband, Dieter Rausch. They are one of the store’s most popular sellers, and it is not difficult to understand why. In fact, the store had to reorder before Thanksgiving. “People are getting something that is unique, it’s historic, it’s a collectible and the proceeds go to a cause,” McLaurin said.

Their philanthropic nature reflects the holiday season’s focus on giving, but moreover, the ornaments themselves are manifestations of the true American spirit. A spirit that is undeniably patriotic, built by veterans and loved by both sides of the aisle. They speak to the class, elegance and majesty associated with the White House, and remind us of those who have come before us to make this Christmas, and those that follow, possible.

 

Lighting up the Night for All to See

Photos by Randy Litzinger

Joyce Mullins, owner of Mullwyck Manor in Upperville, Virginia, shares her love of Christmas with her friends, her family and even strangers. Joyce graciously offered her home, Mullwyck Manor, as the backdrop for this month’s cover shot. Although her home already featured three Christmas trees and decorations in every room, she offered her den as the backdrop for our Hunt Country Christmas tree which was designed and decorated by Linda Tripp Rausch and Diane Spreadbury of the Christmas Sleigh in Middleburg.The Christmas tree features two complete sets of collectible White House Ornaments, a nod to our nation’s history and our close proximity to Washington, D.C. However, what’s under the tree makes it distinctly Hunt Country. Look closely. The hostess went room to room and gathered her personal treasures to help get that perfect Hunt Country feel. She even added two of her own wrapped gifts alongside the beautifully decorated ones Linda designed and brought for the shoot.

Mullins, along with her son, Rick, creates her own spectacular decoration display that takes a week to put up and tear down for friends, neighbors and strangers to enjoy each year. Most notably, Rick decorates their pond every Christmas with dazzling lights that can be seen from the road. She gives him full creative liberty with the pond. “He just goes wild,” she says.Each year, the Christmas light elf tries to up the ante as he knows passersby are excited to see the latest installment. “It’s to make people smile as they go to and from work. Even when I am putting it up, they beep and wave. They expect it.”

If you happen to drive through Upperville as the sun goes down, be sure to keep an eye out for Mullwyck Manor. This seasonal spectacle is one of the community’s favorite traditions and is not to be missed.

 

This article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of Middleburg Life.

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