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Friday, April 20 News

Creativity of all abilities bedecks Fairfield Christmas Tree Festival

In the center hall of the Burr Homestead, a poignant quote from famed impressionist painter Edgar Degas is displayed: "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."

At this year's 34th annual Fairfield Christmas Tree Festival, which opened to the public Friday and continues through Sunday, people will see the impressive art of clients from the Kennedy Center, a regional agency that supports a range of services for people with disabilities, intermingled with the festive holiday decorations. That artwork will inspire people to see "A Celebration of the Human Spirit," which is the title of this year's festival.

"It's amazing that they blend so well with all the different decors in the rooms. As you walk around it just looks like it belongs," said Jo Ann McMullan, vice president of development for the Kennedy Center,

The Kennedy Center's Art Co-op -- scheduled to open in March in Bridgeport -- is this year's beneficiary of the festival proceeds.

The cooperative will emphasize the arts in all forms, including visual art, music, theater and dance. It will not only immerse artists with disabilities in the arts, but hopes to create a collaboration between arts organizations, universities and individual artists without disabilities.

"It doesn't matter if you have a disability or not. Everyone has a creative soul," she said.

The clients' artwork is not only on display but is available for purchase, as are all the decorations throughout the mansion, some which can be carried away at the time of purchase, the more elaborate of which must remain in place until the conclusion of the event.

"You don't know what to look at first. It's the vastness and the layers of detail, and the texture and the color, and use of every square inch of the venue," said Maria Valente of Fairfield as she shopped in the 19 decorated rooms, stairway, tent and hallway, all of them draped in garlands, wreaths, trees, ribbons, ornaments and other holiday decor.

She marveled at one small, free-standing Christmas tree made from cut-up pieces of sheet music, which is incorporated into several rooms' decorations. There are sheet music butterfly ornaments on a wreath and full sheets of music spelling out the words "A Celebration" in one room, "Who thinks of these things?" Valente asked.

Kirsten Keith of Shelton said she's been looking for something "sophisticated and fun" to place on the mantle of the fireplace in her kitchen and finally found it Friday at the festival.

Emily Maiocco of Trumbull returned to find a wreath to match a garland she bought at the festival three years ago. "I love the rooms. Everything is so beautiful," she said.

"It's pretty. A lot of inspiring ideas," said Lynn Hyson of Redding, who was attending for the first time.

Each room is interpreted and decorated by different interior designers and Festival board members. The Terrain store in Westport room features brown paper wall-covering with hand-painted birch trees and natural decorations including giant pinecones. Black and silver are the new red and green for Christmas, at least in the second floor library of the Burr Homestead, which was decorated by Stephanie Markowich of Fairfield.

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Joan Crossman of Fairfield, a volunteer at the event for 25 years, said she appreciated the decorating of the dining room by Milford-based Epicure of Design. "I always ask for this room. I love the mulled cider smell. It really puts you in the mood for the holiday season," Crossman said.

Candy Raveis, a founder of the festival and board member, used her decorating skills to pay tribute to the late Maggie Daly, of Fairfield, who has a connection to the festival and the Kennedy Center. Daly was a festival volunteer and served on the Kennedy Center board of directors. The center's Art Co-op will be named for her. Raveis used non-traditional Christmas colors and patterns to represent Daly, who was known for her good humor and colorful socks. One tree in the room replaces traditional ornaments with socks. This year's festival is dedicated to Daly, whose son Michael's artwork is on display in the mansion.

The festival continues Saturday and Sunday with the decorators' showcase, boutique, pictures with Santa, annual Cecily Zerega quilt raffle, "Christmas Island Party" Saturday night, 7 p.m., and the first-ever "PJs, Pancakes & Penguins" Family Holiday Breakfast at 9 a.m. Sunday. Wearing pajamas is encouraged for parents and kids.

For details visit the website at www.FairfieldChristmasTreeFestival.org