Nearly 100,000 guests are expected to see the holiday decorations at the White House this year, with its child-centered theme, Magic, Wonder and Joy. One of the first images they are sure to see is Santa’s sleigh and reindeer suspended above them in the Grand Foyer.
The eye-popping display is part of the room’s theme, celebrating the 200th anniversary of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Santa’s sleigh and reindeer are just a small part of the room’s elaborate designs, conceived by Knoxville artist, Stephen Brown and Glitterville Studios. However, one of his elves bringing his ideas to life was suburban artist, Lucy Tracy of Huntley, who worked on multiple elements of his designs.
“I was so honored to be a part of his design team, bringing his dream to life,” says Tracy, a retired preschool teacher who spent 42 years in early childhood education, primarily at St. David’s Nursery School in Glenview.
Brown is a former costume designer who opened Glitterville Studios in Knoxville. He is known for his whimsical, bold and sparkly giftware and holiday decor. Tracy started collecting Brown’s ornaments, back when he was licensed with Department 56, and 10 years ago she began following him on Instagram, where periodically he would host live crafting sessions.
Fast forward to last July, when Tracy was invited to attend a Master Craft Weekend at Glitterville Studios in Knoxville. One month later, Brown confided that the White House had reached out to him to submit a design for the China Room. He envisioned it as a sweet shop with holiday cakes, cookies and gingerbread enhancing the space, as well as a pastry counter with piles of cooking supplies and baking ingredients intended to remind guests of familiar recipes.
White House officials liked Brown’s designs so much that they commissioned him to decorate Cross Hall, the East Entrance (Interior) and the East Colonnade, along with the Grand Foyer and China Room.
At the end of October, Brown invited Tracy to come down to Knoxville to help create elements for the different rooms. She ended up going down twice in November. The first week, she hand-stitched saddles for the eight reindeer flying overhead in the Grand Foyer. She returned the next week to apply shingles and painted all of the white houses (seven) that the reindeer fly over.
It was during that second week, that Brown asked Tracy if she wanted to join the Glitterville Design Team and go to the White House. One week later, she was on her way to Washington. In all, the Dream Team consisted of 14 members, including several of Brown’s Showroom Designers, his carpenter team and creative friends.
They were among 300 volunteers who spent a full week decorating more than one dozen rooms in the White House, including its 98 trees, more than 142,000 lights, and more than 33,000 ornaments.
“My primary jobs were to help with the reindeer and houses, but I also painted random things like some of the (paper mache) sweets for the China Room and the fireplace logs in the Cross Room,” Tracy says. “All of us hung ornaments at one time or another.”
Tracy describes working within the White House as special — and a little surreal.
“We ate our breakfast and lunch in the State Dining Room under Lincoln’s portrait,” she says. “I would be so focused on my tasks that I would forget I was in the White House, but then I would look up and see the portrait of Bill Clinton looking looking down on me.”
Brown says that being asked to design and decorate the White House has made the holidays even brighter for him.
“Many Thanks to First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden,” Brown wrote on Instagram, “for her love of education and her desire to create memories that last a lifetime in the hearts of children and adults.”