Ornament goes to White House

Monday, December 17, 2001

SCOTT CITY, Mo. -- Barb Lewis has always had a love for making miniature figurines and crafts, but she never dreamed one of her creations would end up in the White House.

Each year, the White House Christmas tree has a theme. The theme this year is Home for the Holidays. Each state was asked to find four people to create replicas of famous homes within the state as ornaments.

The Missouri Arts Council submitted a list of names of people associated with the St. Louis Miniature Museum to Gov. Bob Holden's office at the beginning of the summer. In July, Lewis, who has taught classes at the museum, was contacted and asked to be one of the four representatives from Missouri.

For Lewis, who had recently moved to Missouri from Indiana, it didn't take long to decide which home she wanted to recreate -- Mark Twain's childhood home.

"In Indiana as a child I went to Hannibal and toured the cave and the house," she said. "Everybody knows Mark Twain."

Lewis got started after visiting the house and taking photographs to use for models.

"In the beginning, I got goofy on it and tried to really replicate it exactly how it is," she said. "Near the end I had to kind of veer off and do my own thing to make the deadline."

The final house measured 5 inches wide by 5.5 inches tall by 8.5 inches deep and was finished just in time to make the Nov. 1 deadline.

Reception at White House

But that wasn't the best part for Lewis and her husband, Kirk.

They received an invitation from first lady Laura Bush to attend a reception at the White House on Dec. 3. The couple toured the White House and viewed the ornaments from each state.

"It was wonderful," said Lewis. "There were something like 49 trees inside, and when you walked in the scent filled the air."

When they toured the White House, Kirk Lewis said, many people they met spoke about their galleries and asked where Barb's gallery was.

"This is just a hobby for her," he said. "Her ornament was just as good or better than the others. She really is an artist, though she doesn't claim to be."

Lewis has made a lot of crafts over the past several years, but the White House ornament is her favorite. "I wish I still had it," she said.

To make the ornament, Lewis had to agree that it would be one of a kind. One of the guidelines stated the ornament "may not be reproduced for sale or advertised as designed for the White House."

Lewis said she could make another one for herself if she wanted to, but she probably won't.

Inspired by magazine

Lewis' hobby started over 25 years ago when she was in high school. Over the years she has created hundreds of miniature crafts that will one day go in her dollhouse.

"When I was a kid I always loved little things, but I never had a dollhouse," she said. "When I got older I found a magazine, Nutshell News, and when I opened it there were adults -- men and women building beautiful things. I didn't realize I could still do it until I saw the magazine."

At 45, Lewis is in the process of building her first dollhouse and the accessories to decorate it.

On a work table, just a few feet from the dollhouse, Lewis creates everything from miniature teapots to peeled oranges the size of peas to extravagant flower boxes no bigger than a matchbox.

She gets her inspiration from things she sees on television, the Internet and from things around her house.

Last week, she created a potted plant to match the one in her work room. The replica is smaller than one of the leaves on the actual plant.

Lewis said she loves making miniature things and always relies on the advice she heard from a friend when she was lacking inspiration: Anything you can make in the real world you can make in miniature.

Lewis' Mark Twain ornament will remain on display at the White House until the tree is taken down. Then it will become part of the Bush archives and eventually be part of the Bush library.

hkronmueller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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