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Deck the Halls: Holidays at the White House


>>David Ferriero: Good evening.
[Applause] I’m not Tim Gunn. I’m David Ferriero, the
Archivist of tfhe United States. Welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National
Archives here in Washington, D.C. for a look back at the holidays at the White House. Whether
you’re here in the theater or watching live through our YouTube Channel or on C-SPAN,
we’re glad you could be with us tonight to relive White House holiday decorations of
past decades and the present day. The President’s house is a historic site,
a public building and a home. And the annual holiday decorations and special tours touch
all of these roles. We’ve got an impressive roster of guests who will share their insights
and expertise starting with our moderator Tim Gunn along with Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter
of President Lyndon Johnson, Genevieve Gorder, host of HGTV’s “White House Christmas,” former
White House Chief Usher Gary Walters, and Coleen Christian Burke, author of “Christmas
with the First Ladies.” I also want to extend our thanks to our partner
for tonight’s program, the White House Historical Association and its president, Stewart McLaurin,
who you will hear from soon. Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about
two other programs coming up soon in this theater. On Tuesday, December 16 at noon we
will show a compelling film of the chronicle — that chronicles the Battle of the Bulge
on the 70th anniversary that the battle began that includes newsreel footage and film from
German and American archives. And next month, Wednesday, January 14, 7:00 p.m., we will
present “Moana with Sound,” a documentary film pioneer Robert Flaherty released, silent
film in 1926. His daughter returned to Samoa to create a soundtrack for her parents’ film.
The curator Bruce Posner, who recently digitally restored the film, will introduce the screening
which is presented in partnership with the National Gallery of Art.
To learn more about these and all of our programs, consult our program of public — our calendar
— our monthly Calendar of Events. They’re in the lobby, as well as a signup sheet where
you can receive it physically or virtually. And you will also find information about other
programs and activities. Another way to get more involved in the National
Archives is to become a member of the Foundation for the National Archives. The foundation
supports all of our education and outreach activities. And there are applications for
membership in the lobby. Just over two months ago we were delighted
to have Tim Gunn here to moderate a discussion of first ladies’ fashions. Those of you who
know of Tim Gunn only through “Project Runway” may have wondered why he is our host tonight.
Lynda Johnson Robb, of course, lived through several White House Christmases during her
father’s years as President. Former Chief Usher Gary Walters saw more than 30 holiday
seasons at the White House. But what is Tim Gunn’s connection to Christmas at the White
House? I’m going to let Tim tell you that story during the program.
The photos and even the tree decorations are preserved in our Presidential Libraries which
stand the administrations of Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush. As a special treat,
we have a selection of ornaments from the L.B.J. Library on the stage with us. And at
the conclusion of the program I invite you to come up on the stage and take a look at
these real live White House ornaments. The National Archives shares this interest
in White House Christmases with our partner for tonight’s program, the White House Historical
Association. To get us started, please welcome the President of the association.
[Applause]>>Stewart McLaurin: Thank you very much.
It’s an honor for us to be here with our partner, the National Archives, for this terrific program
that is planned for you this evening about holidays, Christmas, in the White House over
the years. We partner with these programs with the National Archives from time to time
and have had the privilege and pleasure of working with the archivist going back almost
20 years. It’s wonderful to have this opportunity to continue in this format.
The White House Historical Association is a nonprofit non-partisan organization founded
by Mrs.Kennedy in 1961. And our mission is very simple. It’s to be the private partner
to the public White House to provide the financial resources to make possible the preservation,
restoration, the conservation of the state rooms of the White House, those rooms that
are open to the public, and to provide funds to the acquisition of furnishings and decorative
arts to the permanent White House collection. We’re privileged to do that as the private
partner to the White House. And over the past 53 years we’ve had the opportunity to contribute
over $42 Millieon to that work. We’re privately funded. We’re non-partisan. We raise that
money principally by our famous little White House Christmas Ornament. And we’re very happy
that our friends of the archives are making these available through your wonderful shop
here. Get them quickly because this year we’re going to sell out before Christmas.
We’ve done these for 33 years. They’re made by this wonderful American company in Rhode
Island. This is the ornament that honors President Harding. We honor presidents in sequence.
So we’re in our trifecta of interesting presidents. We have Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. But
I promise you that next year’s ornament is going to be the most exciting ornament yet.
The National Archives is a wonderful organization. They are truly the source, a great source,
for American history not only in the nation’s capital but, as the archivist mentioned, in
these wonderful network of Presidential Libraries from coast-to-coast. And we have the opportunity
to partner with many of them and work closely with them.
As our panelists come out tonight, I’d like to reiterate who is going to be with us. We
have Tim Gunn, who’s been a good friend of the archives and a good friend to the White
House Historical Association. He is a native Washingtonian. And he is — he has had his
own personal experience of decorating the White House that he’ll tell us about.
Lynda Johnson Robb is the daughter of the President and Mrs. Johnson. And Mrs. Johnson
was actually, herself, an extraordinary contributor to the preservation and restoration of the
White House following Mrs. Kennedy. And Mrs.Johnson is due a great deal of credit and respect
for her contributions to the White House as First Lady. And I’m interested to hear about
the wedding of the Robbs. We have Senator Robb with us tonight. Took place in the Christmas
season a few years ago. Gary Walters is a great American public servant.
Gary served in the White House for 37 years and was the Chief Usher. And for those of
you who don’t know, the Chief Usher in the White House is sort of like the orchestra
conductor that makes everything happen and makes everything harmonious, or tries to,
that happens in the White House. And Gary, in full disclosure, is a member of the White
House Historical Association Board of Directors. He’s a great man and has wonderful insights
into the operations of the White House as well as this behind-the-scenes Wizard of Oz
look as to what goes on behind the scenes when Christmas is prepared for.
Genevieve Gorder, as you know, has been host since 2009 when HGTV took over again the broadcast
of the White House Christmas special and has up-close, personal views of the White House
and its decorations for Christmas these past five years and particularly this season. And
that program, I believe, airs on HGTV on December 14. I was at the White House today and this
year’s decorations are absolutely extraordinary. And finally, Coleen Christian Burke, author
of “Christmas with the First Ladies” and has participated in decorating the White House
herself So we have a wonderful panel. They can make
their way out. On behalf of the National Archives and the White House Historical Association,
we would like to wish each and every one of you a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season
and all the best in 2015. Thank you very much. [Applause] [Cheers and Applause]>>Tim Gunn: Wow. We have a packed house. Thank you for coming, everyone. How festive
and fun is this? Let’s look at the White House. It’s great to share the holidays with all
of you. I’m sure some of you are wondering: What is Tim Gunn doing here? Well, you’ll
find out a little later. And it may surprise all of you. We have a lot of visual information
for you. We have a lot of historical information for you. We have a preview of things to come.
And it’s going to be a very exciting night. So welcome.
We should get going with — we have our first slide which is quite spectacular looking.
The White House looks fabulous. Does it not? This could not happen — how many volunteers
are there?>>Depending on the year, this year I think
it was like 106?>>Yeah. We had a little over 100 this year.
A lot of Christmas elves.>>I feel like there had been years where
there were almost 300. It was swarming volunteers.>>Usually about 100
>>It’s a beehive.>>Tim Gunn: Gary, in your experience as Chief
Usher, do you have to conduct the volunteers as well?
>>Well, I was very fortunate to have a young woman who worked for me for a number of years.
Her name was Nancy Clark. She was both right-brained and left-brained. She could put together computers
from scratch and she could be this incredible designer. And she was the one that kind of
orchestrated getting the volunteers together in association with the first ladies through
the years and the First Ladies staff.There’s normally about 100 to 150 people depending
on the circumstances each year. They come from various walks of life. Most of them have
some affiliation, one form or the other, with florists, florist deliveries or studying,
school. It’s a wonderful group of people. They’re dedicated.
What’s not known is in addition to the three days that it takes to decorate the White House
–>>Tim Gunn: It happens in three days?
>>Three days. Usually over a weekend.>>Tim Gunn: Good heavens.
>>It closes down on Friday. It usually happens Saturday, Sunday, Monday with the first event
being Monday evening.>>Tim Gunn: A real deadline. People are coming.
>>It is. Most volunteers come from a week to 10 days in advance and work at a remote
site, National Park Service site, where all the decorations are held until they’re needed.
And they work for that period of time putting the decorations together. And they’re labeled.
When they come into the White House from the trucks — you see them on HGTV, I’m sure.
They’re labeled, marked where they go. It’s an ant hill for a while.
>>It is like a military event. It is so organized. You wish your house ran like this. And every
volunteer knows exactly where they’re going with their box, written with what decoration
it is. And they’re in charge of what room and working with them.
>>Tim Gunn: And Genevieve, you know firsthand because you’re hosting a special, “White House
Christmas” which airs Sunday. We have a preview for you. You want to set it up for us?
>>It’s being cut as we speak because we just filmed this — Coleen and I just went there
this year, the day after Thanksgiving. So it is the quickest edited show. So what we’re
going to see I just caught a glimpse prior to you getting here. It’s very fragment. Consider
it top secret.>>Tim Gunn: Top secret.
>>And really cool and not mapy and weird. Ok?
>>Tim Gunn: Let’s see the clip. We promise there’s a clip. Here it comes. We’re staring.
We have a monitor.>>Thank you for saying that.
>>Didn’t realize we were all looking at it.>>It’s very, very top secret.
>>Yeah. Are we going to see it?>>Little pine cones here and there.
>>Everything’s smooth.>>That’s one bit.
[Laughter] Here’s another.
>>On my bucket list. First time. It’s wonderful.>>Two.
[Laughter]>>It’s really pretty.
>>This particular shape, which is a vintage —
>>Reflects, really elegant.>>And I think that might be it. No? One more.
>>Tim Gunn: No, there’s more.>>Hi.
>>Hi.>>How many?
>>There’s 3,200 total.>>There’s no color. And this is like stealing
the show.>>Do we start from the bottom and go up or
top down?>>Top down.
>>Top down?>>The overall plan in a nutshell?
>>Tim Gunn: All right. [Applause]
>>I promise, the show actually connects together. I don’t know how we got that feed but just
consider it cool. All right.>>Tim Gunn: The show is about the process.
>>It really is. I think most of the country is unaware that this is something that they
can volunteer to do. And I can’t tell you — I’ve been doing it for six years now. Every
year I go the volunteers all approach me saying this is how we found out that we could do
this, watching the show.>>Tim Gunn: Oh, great.
>>So I’m glad that we could be a part of bringing everyone into the party and celebrating
this beautiful event that happens every year. It is quite stunning.
>>That’s how I found out about it.>>Tim Gunn: Coleen, you were chosen to be
the 2014 design partner.>>Yes. So I first — Nancy Clark was nice
enough to bring me in 2008. And then I kind of got hooked on the First Ladies. I wanted
to know what all of their styles were. And I ended up writing a book about it, “Christmas
with the First Ladies.” Not very original.>>Tim Gunn: It’s to the point.
>>It’s to the point. I just wanted you to know what it was about. And the amazing thing
was that Mrs. Obama invited me back and this year they asked me to be the design partner.
>>Tim Gunn: What does that involve? It sounds like a heavy responsibility.
>>I got to keep the secret longer. So I started working in March on the decorations and got
to hear what the First Lady’s initial ideas were going to be. And I got to see the process
really inside. It was just amazing. And the outcome, as we all know, is just really beautiful
In fact, I see one of the gals who was on my team, Susan, in the audience. An amazing
volunteer.>>I remember you.
[Laughter] I think you were in the clip.
>>She was in the clip. But we had a great time. So this year’s theme is Children’s Winter
Wonderland. And just to see all of the elements come together and how many layers, like Genevieve
mentioned, just all of the thought and the process that goes into it from the First Lady
down is amazing.>>One of the things in that third clip there,
the gentleman, Jim, he’s been there for 28 years, coming back year after year. He runs
a design school. He also designs ornaments. And he comes every year and spends his time
helping First Ladies with their designs for the White House.
>>Tim Gunn: That’s wonderful. Gary, can we ask you, where do all of these trees come
from?>>The trees are purchased from across the
country. We found a gentleman up in Pennsylvania who had a tree farm. The national Christmas
tree growers association holds a biannual meeting. It was actually at that meeting that
they choose both this year’s winner and the next year’s winner. And they are by the Christmas
tree growers association given the honor of presenting the blue ribbon tree to the White
House. This started in the Johnson Administration, the association with the National Christmas
Tree Association. They also provide a tree at their giving desire for the First Family
for their own personal tree up on the second floor of the residence.
But we also have this gentleman, as I said before, in Pennsylvania who was growing trees.
He and his father planted their first batch of Christmas trees in the late 1930s. He called
this one field that they literally abandoned a number of years ago the White House field
because the White House wanted trees that were 18 feet, six inches. That’s the floor-to-ceiling
measurement in the Blue Room of the White House. And we couldn’t find Christmas tree
growers because Christmas tree growers grow trees for your homes. And how many people
have 18-foot ceilings? There aren’t many. So it has to be tied off. The top whirl of
the tree is tide off on the chandelier support so that the tree won’t fall over. And the
bottom has a very substantial standing that holds it in place and also allows us to water
the tree. The tree is not cut until very late in the season, usually in late November, and
allows it to come into the White House being very fresh.
>>How do you water it?>>With a very long hose.
[Laughter] I’m serious. It’s a garden hose, about eight-foot
long. The gardener at the White House, whose name was Irv Williams, been there 50 years,
devised the system that the hose — he had a tank that they held up in the air, this
very long hose that allowed it to go into a container that contained about 15 to 20
gallons of water. And Irv’s mantra as far as preserving the Christmas tree was don’t
put any additives in the water, a little Clorox —
>>Tim Gunn: Yes.>>To keep the germs down. And extremely hot
water.>>Tim Gunn: Oh.
>>That keeps the capillaries of the tree open and allows it to take up the water.
>>Tim Gunn: Interesting.>>Now you know how to preserve your tree.
The White House tree goes up the first week of December and stays up till new year’s.
And there are sometimes as many as 3,000 ornaments on the tree. And they have to support that
weight. As I’m sure others can testify, quite frequently the limbs are held together by
wires from limb to limb to limb all the way to the top.
>>If you have that hole in your tree — I just learned that this year. It was so genius.
They just zip tie the lower branch to the upper branch and all the trees are perfect.
You can do this.>>Tim Gunn: What I want to point out is the
scaffolding. How many of you look at this and are terrified? I am. And how many of us
have been on that scaffolding? [Laughter]
The three of us? Linda? They never made you?>>Never let me.
[Laughter]>>The secret is out.
>>Tim Gunn: And Gary?>>Actually, there were a group of people
that were dedicated as supervisors because they all had specific jobs. The people standing
around the bottom would get the ornaments that are supposed to go on the tree at various
levels and they would put them in little baskets. Then the person on the top would pull the
basket up and then put the ornaments on. Now that we have so many ornaments given by
volunteers from around the country when they come to the White House, they want to know
where their ornament is. So we devised a system where we put ribbons on the tree on each corner,
north, south, east, and west. And we kept track of every five feet so that we could
tell Mr. Smith when he came in or Mrs. Jones that your ornament is in the west side of
the tree, one-third of the way down. It’s up to you to find exactly where it is but
at least we give you a general area.>>Tim Gunn: But that degree of detail is
remarkable. Really remarkable. Let’s go back. This is 1902. We’re looking
at the Grover Cleveland Christmas tree in the Yellow Oval Room. Lynda, that’s the second
floor?>>Yes.
>>Tim Gunn: So not on the main level.>>It’s right above the Blue Room.
>>Tim Gunn: And here we see Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Archie. He actually smuggled a small
tree into the White House and hid it in a closet in the upstairs sewing room. I don’t
know — why did he have to smuggle it in?>>His father was a staunch conservative.
At that time they did not grow trees as a crop. They grew trees in the woods. People
went out in the forest and cut trees and brought them home. And the President being a staunch
conservative, he decided that he didn’t want a tree in the house because that didn’t fit
his thinking on cutting down trees.>>Tim Gunn: He sounds like a grump.
>>Bah, humbug.>>Grump is better than grinch when talking
about the President.>>He made great parks, though.
>>Tim Gunn: And here we have Franklin Roosevelt and his family. And more of the Roosevelt
White House at Christmas time.>>That’s the East Room.
>>Tim Gunn: That’s the East Room?>>Yeah.
>>Tim Gunn: It looks like a bottom-heavy tree.
[Laughter]>>They look like heavy chandeliers.
>>Tim Gunn: Very much so. And the Eisenhower White House. And we see a lot of tinsel.
>>Wow. [Laughter]
>>Tim Gunn: It looks tinsel heavy.>>On the top.
>>That was pre-theme. [Laughter]
>>The theme of tinsel.>>Tim Gunn: Yeah. That was the theme, tinsel.
They did a great job of it. Then we get to the Kennedy White House. And
things change here. Coleen and Gary, can you talk about that, about what happened at that
time?>>Well, Mrs. Kennedy was the first First
Lady who said we should have a theme. I guess if you’re going to have 100,000 people over
for the holidays, you should have a theme. You should think about it. It should be unified.
And the very first theme was “The Nutcracker”. So it was “The Nutcracker” Christmas.
I believe that’s crepe paper on the tree.>>Tim Gunn: It looks like it.
>>I looked at it and looked at it.>>It was supposed to be ribbon. I think they
ran out of ribbon and used crepe paper.>>Tim Gunn: It’s more affordable. I’ll say
that about it. And can you tell us anything about the creche
that we see on the right?>>You want to take it?
>>Ok. Mrs. Kennedy decided that she wanted to have it in the White House.
>>Tim Gunn: Was that approved?>>And on public display. Well, the families
had private — this was on the state floor. So she wanted to have one. She borrowed one
to be on display at the White House. And that started the tradition of the creche in the
White House, which is on display constantly now to remind people that the White House
is a home.>>Tim Gunn: Very nice. And more of “The Nutcracker”
ornaments.>>And Caroline, you have to notice how precious
she looks in that picture.>>Tim Gunn: And “The Nutcracker” legacy was
picked up again by the Bushes in 1990.>>I think those are a little scary.
[Laughter] I’m just saying. They’re horrifying.
>>They don’t have eyes.>>Tim Gunn: We ran through the slides earlier.
The incredibly depth and skillful individual who helped pull these images said she was
being kind. This is actually a nice picture compared to the way some of the other ornaments
looked, that they were rather terrifying. Gary, you were there.
>>Actually what it was is we bought the faces. They are just faces.
>>Tim Gunn: What?>>They are blank porcelain faces. And the
decorators, the White House florist and people from around the country, they came in, actually
put the different dolls together. They wanted to paint the mustaches to replicate European
soldiers at the time. And they were throughout the house. Those were on the tree in the Blue
Room. But on each one of the vignette — we had a vignette on each one of the tables and
the mantel pieces throughout the house that replicated “The Nutcracker”, different scenes
from “The Nutcracker”. But those were all built specifically, all the dolls, were built
at the White House by the florist. There were six people in the florist shop.
>>Tim Gunn: I don’t know whether that makes it better or worse.
[Laughter] And then in 1996 President and Mrs. Clinton
bring back “The Nutcracker” theme again.>>And the amazing thing there was Chelsea
was dancing in “The Nutcracker” the year that they chose that as the theme.
>>Tim Gunn: Oh. Well, this looks more cheerful I’m happy to say.
>>Evolved.>>Tim Gunn: And now Lynda, this is your territory.
Here we are.>>Absolutely. Well, first you have to recognize
that we didn’t decorate the house until December 22 because, of course, for a month you mourned
the President. So all over the White House we had all of this black crepe, you know,
over the mirrors, over everything. And so then on December 22, which happens to be my
mother’s birthday, they tore off the crepe and started putting everything together.
For our years my father was very fiscally conservative. He said we would use the same
decorations every year. So they were like your home might be. They were old-time things
that everybody could have, popcorn and cranberries. After the first year we learned that cranberries
should not be on the tree –>>Tim Gunn: What happens?
>>They can’t take 30 days or whatever it is. They’re mushy. So after that we had to
have fake cranberries or fake berries. But we had popcorn on string.
>>We’re wondering who strung all of that.>>Oh.
>>Tim Gunn: Did you participate, Lynda?>>No. I did not participate. 50 years ago
is so long ago. I don’t remember that. But if you got the Archives bulletin, you will
see that little baby — Lucinda, stand up.>>Tim Gunn: There she is.
[Laughter] Lucinda was almost 2 months old.
>>Tim Gunn: I’m going to fast forward.>>You have it? Another time?
>>Tim Gunn: Let’s fast forward.>>Oh, well.
>>Tim Gunn: There we are.>>There she is. But you can see a little
more. This one has Lucinda’s first cousin, Lucy’s son. And then one of my first cousin’s
children who came to be with us. But we really didn’t spend every Christmas at the White
House. The only Christmas we really spent there was our last Christmas.
Every year we would have two particular special parties. One of them was for the Embassy children.
They would come in costume — I shouldn’t say costume. Come in what they wore in their
country. For us it looked like costumes. And then we would have a party for — I don’t
know if they were orphan children but there were particular homes. And the children would
come. We would set up little bitty tables and they would all have a Christmas soda or
whatever. So that was very special. And that’s what the second picture is there.
I’m actually in the picture with daddy but you can’t see me because — only half of me.
I’m wearing that pink outfit. But you can see the children loving the tree. That was
very special.>>Tim Gunn: And you had cookies within reach.
>>Oh, yes. These were all ornaments — well, these are the ornaments, some of the ornaments
over here. I don’t know if any of you can see them.
>>Tim Gunn: You can come up afterwards and take a closer look.
>>They were very simple. They were ones that we could have on our tree. And that was our
theme, everybody’s Christmas. I’m going to read you a little piece. December
22, 1968, my father wrote this note to my mother. “To Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson,”
her whole name. “My Dearest, upon your return to the White House arrangements will be made
to pay for the Christmas tree decorations so you will own them and enjoy them again
in the years ahead.” and then he goes on, “Here is another birthday present I’ve been
told you would enjoy. All my love.” And daddy, his next-to-last year — can we
go back to the wedding? This is the most important part.
>>Tim Gunn: Forward.>>Forward. Ok. We’ll get to it.
>>Tim Gunn: There we go.>>We were married, stand up.
[Laughter] Chuck and I were married 47 and two days ago.
[Applause]>>Tim Gunn: Bravo.
>>We had the most beautiful decorations. And, again, this is the way to save money.
You just recycle them. You do them for the wedding and then you just keep on doing it.
So that year — talk about trouble. Can you imagine this? We had wonderful, gorgeous trees
made out of poinsettias. They were all around. And then we got married on the 9th. And immediately
the next day they — now we can start on Christmas, on the 10th of December.
The beautiful creche that you will see, which was given by the Engelhard’s, was right where
we got married in the East Room. So it didn’t get to go up until we got out. But you will
see a picture of that. Here’s part of it, Neapolitan creche. It was a gift to the White
House. Every year they put it up. I’ve been back — for many of the first years,
I would go back and take a picture of it with my children or whoever was available and send
the picture to Mrs. Engelhard just to let them know that it was really still there and
loved and everything. It was a special, special time.
But we got married. And then they had to start doing the decorations. And, of course, you
can imagine we received our guests in the Blue Room so you couldn’t have that big tree
in the Blue Room. So they had to do all of that starting on the 10th of December. I don’t
know how they did it. And then we went off on our honeymoon and
my father went around the world. He was the first president to go around the world. He
took off and went to the funeral of the prime minister of Australia, went around to Vietnam
to see our troops, flew in to the Vatican City to see the pope. He did the full world
and then came back on Christmas Eve. That was really wonderful. And we came back from
the honeymoon so we could all be together for that Christmas. That’s when you see these
pictures of Lucinda and me. It was wonderful. And then all of us sitting upstairs in the
family quarters. Here we go.>>Was that your family Christmas picture
that you guys would take every year?>>Well, we always did have to do a family
horror show picture. Trying to gather – I don’t know about y’all, but it is one of the
least fun things that we do every year to try to get everybody together, everybody smiling;
the two Lyndons both being, you know, smiling. We have a 2-month-old baby, a dog that is
very active. So trying to get everybody. But that is upstairs in the family quarters. And
that’s the tree there which was wonderful. And Lucinda insisted that I bring this. Do
you know this? Lynda Bird on it. Everybody? A very special bag. Now, this is where I wish
we had a picture. I don’t think you have a picture of the upstairs other than this one.
But we hung up stockings. And this year we had special stockings made for us.
>>Tim Gunn: Good heavens. That is elaborate.>>Mine. And this is University of Texas where
I went to school. Mystic, my camp. “McCall’s” magazine. There I am on the front. I worked
for McCall. There’s the ranch, all in beautiful — just spectacular. Christmas tree, Texas
history, the White House, my sorority. And a little book which I should have written
something wonderful in but I don’t think I did.
>>Tim Gunn: There’s still time.>>Oh yes. But we have hung this up for 46
years I guess. Might have been 47. I guess it was because we have one for you, too, Chuck.
Don’t we? [Laughter]
It could have been 68. It shows you when you get to my age, what is a year or two. Anyway.
Oh, it had to be 68 because we have one for Lucinda.
>>Tim Gunn: Where is yours?>>I told her to bring mine.
[Laughter]>>So we have them hanging up. And then after
they hung at the L.B.J. ranch after we left Washington. And they hung up and everything
was just gorgeous, beautiful, wonderful. And we added grandchildren. So that meant the
mother had to go make us new stockings. And none are going to be as elegant as this because
the lady had unfortunately died, was not available to make new stockings.
>>Tim Gunn: Actually, this — [Inaudible]>>I wouldn’t want to tell you everything.
On Chuck’s, he has a Marine, beautiful, wonderful, all in jewels. Every one is different. Daddy’s
was fantastic. Mother’s was great. And then when mother died, we couldn’t go
back to the ranch and hang our stockings up anymore. Each family decided to take their
stockings back. So I hung these up a week ago or so and just took it off the mantelpiece
to bring it here tonight because Lucinda told me to.
>>Thank you, Lucinda.>>Tim Gunn: Thank you.
[Applause] Talk about something special. Genevieve, does
the crafts person in you approve?>>I’m just taken away with this. This is
so beautiful. It’s not too much. This could be sold at Anthropology in two seconds.
>>Actually — this was the fanciest thing we did. Our tree is homespun. The only thing
is we did put – every year we would put fresh cookies on it. And the little children would
come and we would know that it was appreciated because we would see little bite holes out
of every cookie. [Laughter]
We had to make sure that we put the cookies, the real cookie, down towards the bottom.
We didn’t want any child to break their tooth on them. Even with these we had the problem
of if we put candy in them, you have to really hope that the chocolate is not still there
next year.>>Tim Gunn: Actually to underscore what you
were saying about recycling, we may think at first glance that this is the same tree.
They are two different trees, different years.>>And even today I think especially with
the Obama Administration everything is repurposed and reused. You’ll see some sparkle on an
ornament that was a different color last year, which is nice because there are so many ornaments.
It’s nice they keep reusing them.>>Tim Gunn: When I talk about my experience,
it was a different time. Oh Lynda, what is that under the tree?
>>Yes. [Laughter]
>>Tim Gunn: Any speculation around here?>>It looks like one of those Afghan dogs.
[Laughter]>>They were white painted twigs.
>>Tim Gunn: Oh.>>It was meant to replicate snow under the
tree.>>Tim Gunn: I see.
>>If I could just one quick thing.>>Tim Gunn: Oh, yes. We want you to.
>>When it was the center in Mrs. Robb’s, I think it was the 30th or 31st wedding anniversary,
I received a call from Mrs. Robb. She said: Do you think it would be possible for chuck
and I to come down to the White House? I know it’s awfully busy at Christmas time but it
is our anniversary. As it turned out, on that specific date the events for that evening
were over at 7:00. And I knew that everybody would be gone about 8:00 or 8:30. So I made
arrangements for the senator and Mrs. Robb to come to the White House unbeknownst to
anybody other than the Secret Service. The Butlers and I placed a bottle of champagne
in the East Room for them so that they do have a little bit of private time in the room
where they were married. I think it was a very moving occasion. And
it also points out what the White House really is. It’s a home. People flow through, but
they always have a tie to the White House. We try and represent that. It’s something
we feel very strongly about. The White House is the President’s home.
>>Tim Gunn: That’s lovely. Thank you.>>It was a wonderful thing. It made us feel
so good. We’re still together, 47 years. [Laughter]
>>Which is astonishing. [Applause]
>>White House weddings do not have many long weddings. We feel very blessed.
>>Tim Gunn: Here we have Christmas with the Nixons.
>>I wanted to point out this ornament that Mrs. Nixon is holding. These are referred
to as the state flower balls. You can see more of them on this other picture. These
were ornaments, one was made for each state. They were made by handicapped individuals.
They were kind of a combination of felt and some artificial flowers. And these ornaments
were actually left behind. Mrs. Nixon left her ornaments behind whereas most First Ladies
make arrangements, like your mom and dad did, take them for their presidential libraries.
So I had heard that these were around. I wanted to see them when I was researching my book.
And no one could tell me exactly where they were. We were working in the warehouse. As
you mentioned, there’s a lot of boxes. We came across the box that was unceremoniously
marked “Pat’s Balls.” [Laughter]
That’s the raunchy part of the segment. And there they were inside. They’ve actually been
used. They’ve been used by Mrs. Reagan, Mrs. Obama. They’ve been brought out. They have
moved into the category of a national treasure now because of their age and what they represent.
That’s my story.>>Tim Gunn: That’s quite a story.
And this is more from the Nixon’s.>>Yes. She loved this gold garland.
>>Tim Gunn: Where is that tree?>>That was in the Grand Foyer that year.
Right? Is there had been years where it’s been in the Grand Foyer.
>>Tim Gunn: I see. So it’s not always in the Blue Room.
>>Recently I think. For the last many years it’s been in the Blue Room. But there was
a point –>>I think the last time the principle tree
was in the Kennedy Administration. Every year since then it’s — the principle tree with
the theme on it has been in the Blue Room. Although there are many years where there
are trees all over.>>Yeah. Every year I’ve been there, there
are so many.>>Tim Gunn: There was a new tradition established
under the Nixons, the gingerbread house. Here are two of them.
>>We’ve come a long way.>>Tim Gunn: They’re startlingly different.
>>I can give you a little bit of background.>>Tim Gunn: We’d love to hear it.
>>The traditional gingerbread house is German. And that was because Hans Raffert, an American
citizen, born in Germany, received his training there, came to the White House in the Johnson
Administration and when Mrs. Nixon came in, he went to her one day and said the White
House ought to have a tradition from around the world and I’d like to create a gingerbread
house.>>Tim Gunn: He was the chef.
>>Chef to the White House. Not the pastry chef but a chef in the White House. But that’s
a traditional German gingerbread house. And through the years it has morphed.
>>Tim Gunn: Considerably.>>Considerably. And a pastry chef, he said,
the pastry chef will create the gingerbread house.
>>Tim Gunn: So this is 2009.>>Yeah. It has electricity now and water.
And mechanized ice skaters this year.>>Tim Gunn: It’s incredible. Remarkable.
>>They work — they work from architectural plans to get everything correct, the measurements,
proportions and everything.>>Tim Gunn: I can see why.
>>Each year the chefs try and update it. There’s about 400 pounds of gingerbread and
icing in those. That’s on a base there that’s on a table in the state dining room. Carry
it in, it takes eight people. And it has to be taken from the pastry shop, which is a
temporary facility that’s created in the ground floor of the executive residence, actually
where the China is kept. And they put it together down there because they need a big area. And
then it’s very ceremoniously taken out the south doors, where the President goes in and
out to the helicopters, loaded onto a truck driven at 2 miles an hour to the north portico
where it’s ceremoniously carried in and placed on the state dining room table. The end table,
I should say. It stays there throughout entire the Christmas season. And at the end of the
Christmas season it’s taken out and thrown in the dumpster. Unfortunately it’s been there
for 30 days. Do you want to eat gingerbread that’s been there for 30 days?
>>You don’t want to eat it anyway. But has it ever broken in the transfer? This is one
of my favorite parts of the show every year.>>I’m not aware of it.
>>I did see one year, I believe it was two years ago. We brought it up — “we.” I watched.
>>You did the whole thing. There was someone who licked the house.
>>Tim Gunn: Really?>>Was it you?
>>It was not me. But it was a wonderful moment.>>Tim Gunn: If it were to break, it would
be a “Make It Work” moment.>>Yes.
>>Tim Gunn: So now we are with the Fords at the White House for Christmas. Coleen?
>>Well, Mrs. Ford loved this calico fabric. That year was going to be a frugal Christmas.
She was going to be very conscientious about the spending. It turned out that that fabric
was quite costly and she ended up spending not just on the fabric but the whole thing
was $1,600.>>Tim Gunn: For the whole tree?
>>For all the decorations that year.>>Tim Gunn: All right.
>>And the press were merciless with her. Because that was more than the previous three
administrations had spent. So it kind of backfired on her. Can you imagine? It seems like nothing
today.>>Tim Gunn: That’s remarkably little.
>>How many trees do they decorate? Just that one?
>>They had this one but I believe they just had some smaller trees, smaller table-top
trees. They used some greens in the hallways but nothing like we see today.
And Mrs. Ford also liked to wrap her packages with fabric. That was something unusual that
she did.>>Tim Gunn: And this was more of the Ford
White House.>>Yup. We see more calico. There’s that fabric.
She really loved it.>>Tim Gunn: I understood that she brought
in a rather masterful quilter.>>Yes.
>>Tim Gunn: To work on these decorations.>>Yes. This was the style. One of the reasons
that I had loved researching this topic was just this glimpse back in time of how things
have changed, just how charming that was and understated. And maybe something we would
not repeat. I’m not certain.>>Tim Gunn: It’s a matter of taste.
>>Once again, looking back at the historical context, at the time President Ford took office
there was what they referred to as runaway inflation, which was about 6%. And President
Ford and his staff came up with the idea of the WIN, With Inflation Now, program. And
they were trying to be as frugal as possible. So a lot of the ornaments were natural material.
>>Tim Gunn: This looks quite grand. This is the state floor cross hall.
>>That was the following year.>>Tim Gunn: Yes. 1974.
>>And that’s boxwoods cut up, the branches cut up. And the angels, with the trumpets.
I think there were 12 of them entirely on the state floor.
>>Tim Gunn: They’re beautiful.>>There was a bit of a problem with the angels.
They were supposed to be — there were supposed to be more. And in transit to the White House
they were broken. So they scaled them back.>>Tim Gunn: Well, now I bring you to me.
This is 1979. I was teaching at the Corcoran School of Art, now part of George Washington
University. And we were called two weeks in advance. So we were given a lot of notice.
And told that we were decorating, making ornaments for and decorating the White House Christmas
tree in the Blue Room. We were all hugely excited. In fact, the woman standing next
to Mrs. Carter was my boss. She was chair of the Fine Arts Department. She was making
certain everything was all right. Mrs. Carter established the theme. I learned
tonight that she established the theme. For some reason I thought we established it.
[Laughter] It was American folk art. So we decided upon
roughly 12 templates. We needed to create a lot of ornaments. And we did a lot of research
into American folk art and we had a Santa’s workshop going. We were cutting wood, painting.
>>Every ornament you guys made?>>Every one we made by hand. This was no
sleep for two weeks. And we did the installation. To give you the idea of the sense of scale,
that’s how big the ornaments are. Actually, I made that Noah’s Ark.
[Laughter] I didn’t know there was a picture of it until
tonight. And I made that White House. Two ornaments. It’s roughly the same size as the
Noah’s Ark. So you can see how small these look on the tree. They’re big. As we know,
it’s a huge tree. But I have to tell you what happens. We arrived
— we had five days, which I now know is a luxury. We’re up on the teetering scaffolding.
And because we made these ornaments to look antique, they were all subdued hues, distressed.
Once they got on the tree, they disappeared. It was like a weird camouflage. It was horrifying.
And we found out about it, of course, the very first day of the installation.
I had been at Sears, which I don’t know whether it’s still on Wisconsin Avenue anymore, but
it was then. I had been there buying sandpaper, dozens of tools for the students. We had a
lot of work to do. And once we were at the White House doing this installation, I remembered
passing a display of red lacquered Styrofoam apples. You can see one on the tree. It’s
two inches in diameter. I thought, our savior. I’m going to buy as many of these apples as
I possibly can. So I ran up there. They were in boxes of a
dozen. I said, “I need 100.” And the salesperson said, “You need 100 of these apples?” I said,
“No, I need 100 boxes of a dozen.” So I returned with 1,200 of these apples and the tree came
to life. It really did. Thankfully. The students who were majoring in ceramic
made the packages, the presents that you see. Everything’s clay. Everything’s fired clay.
It was ambitious. But we didn’t care about those clay packages. We cared about what was
happening on the tree.>>And was the need for secrecy as much then
as today? Were you telling people what you were doing?
>>Tim Gunn: You know, I remember boasting about it. Maybe I was a security breach. But
we were all so thrilled and ecstatic. We were at the White House. We were eating in the
commissary, in in the basement every day for lunch. It was thrilling.
>>I know here they’re described as colonial.>>Tim Gunn: Oh. Really?
[Laughter]>>”Decorations made in a colonial style by
contemporary artists.”>>Tim Gunn: Well, they were contemporary
artisans.>>”By the Corcoran School of Arts and design
to make over 500 ornaments in mixed media. One of those students was our own panel moderator.”
>>Tim Gunn: I had graduated by then. I was then teaching. But I will tell you, initially
it was 10 people. Once we saw how daunting the size of the tree was, I went running back
to the school and said, “Anyone standing, we need your help.” But it was a huge amount
of fun.>>I’ll confirm with my notes I have here
that I ahead — I made — it was the American folk art on a Douglas fur tree that came from
West Virginia.>>Tim Gunn: One other brief anecdote. We
were all so thrilled to have our photographs taken with Mrs. Carter. And something happened
that would never happen today. When we followed up to ask where are the photographs, it was
after about a month, we were told there was no film in the camera.
>>Really?>>Tim Gunn: And that story has been corroborated
by The National Archives. There was no film in the camera.
Actually, Coleen and Gary, I want to ask you this, too. When we took the tree down, took
the ornaments down, we took them all back. So was that unusual?
>>No. At that time it wasn’t.>>Tim Gunn: Ok.
>>Because they were a donation from the Corcoran School.
>>Tim Gunn: Yes.>>They went back to the Corcoran School with
the understanding that they wouldn’t be sold.>>Tim Gunn: They were not sold.
>>I know. [Laughter]
That was how they got back. At least as far as we can tell that didn’t happen.
>>Tim Gunn: No.>>And I know this year there are some ornaments
that we made arrangements to take back, too. One of the ornaments in the East Room this
year, we took books that were going to be thrown away and we have them open on a tree
with paper popup art coming out of it. We just knew they would be crushed in transit.
So — going back to the warehouse. So we made arrangements that we’re going to take those
and return them to the artist.>>Tim Gunn: So case by case.
>>In more recent years all the ornaments have become property of White House because
the government paid for them.>>Tim Gunn: I see.
>>They become property of the White House and remain such until the National Archives,
the wonderful people here at the National Archives, take possession of them.
We’ve had some discussions over the years. Some of the natural things that have been
on the trees, after they’ve been in boxes for a couple of years until the end of an
administration, like cookies and things, the National Archives isn’t too interested in
getting those kinds of things in with the rest of the archival material. So there have
been some good discussions over the years. But all of the ornaments now go to the National
Archives.>>Tim Gunn: Wait a minute. Is this a surprise?
>>Mrs. Carter was very disappointed she wasn’t able to join us tonight. She has fond memories
of her time with you.>>Tim Gunn: I’m going to burst into tears.
[Laughter] [Applause]
>>Tim Gunn: You’re kidding? Thank you.>>You’re welcome.
>>Tim Gunn: I’m farklempt. This is the loveliest thing ever.
>>Thank you for solving the problem. We had been tearing the place apart looking for the
ornaments. [Laughter]
>>Tim Gunn: That is so lovely. I don’t know what to do with it now. I’m putting it next
to Lynda’s stocking. What an incredible surprise. How did you sneak that in? I went through
the slides earlier.>>Two sets of slides.
>>Tim Gunn: You are sneaky. I’m deeply, deeply touched. I’m thrilled and honored. Thank you.
All right. We are moving ahead. Oops. We’re going backwards. See? Farklempt.
I have a question. Who was holding Mrs. Reagan’s legs in this photograph?
>>Gary! [Applause]
>>At least I was holding the ladder.>>Tim Gunn: Coleen, the Reagan years.
>>Well, I described them as a little bit of Hollywood glitz because Nancy had a lot
— Mrs. Reagan, had a lot of gold, gold snowflakes. One of the things she did — do you remember
“Just say no,” the campaign against drugs?>>Tim Gunn: Yeah.
>>She put her money where her mouth was. The decorators for several years during the
Reagan Administration were recovering young drug addicts who came and decorated the White
House. And many of them — I’ve gone back and researched. There are many letters of
these young people saying how much that meant to them that the First Lady would bring them
into the most important house in our land and really entrust them with such a job. I
found that to be a very touching story.>>Tim Gunn: I agree. I’ve never heard it
before.>>I don’t know if you can see it so well,
but Nancy had these shoes she loved to wear with little red pompoms. They were in a lot
of her Christmas pictures. I guess they were her Christmas shoes. Not these.
[Laughter] And then Mrs. Reagan was also known for bringing
a little bit of celebrity to the White House. There were Secret Santas. Some of them were
well-known from Hollywood. We might see one. That’s her husband. That was supposedly a
surprise.>>Tim Gunn: There’s one.
>>There’s one. [Laughter]
>>This should have been leaked years ago.>>Tim Gunn: That’s a classic photographer.
>>This was actually done at the press preview. Mr. T. of the multi-gold necklaces, came down
the grand staircase. She had this set up in front of the press. So it did see the light
of day early on.>>I love that he’s giving out his dolls to
the children. [Laughter]
>>Tim Gunn: If this were today, I would say this didn’t happen; it was photo shopped.
>>Oh, it happened.>>Tim Gunn: It really happened. Remarkable.
I would have failed this multiple choice test. And now we are to —
>>If I can back up a second.>>Tim Gunn: Yes, of course.
>>The idea of those trees. You go to the trees there. The idea of those trees started
in the third year of the Reagan Administration. The trees with the snow.
>>Tim Gunn: On the right.>>The designer, Mrs. Reagan’s designer, from
California, the second year of the administration we flocked the trees with baby’s breath put
in amongst the branches of the trees. Mrs. Reagan said let’s do lots of trees. We had
27 trees.>>Tim Gunn: 27?
>>Yeah. One on each corner of the East Room, one on either side of the creche, cross hall,
Grand Foyer. And then Nancy Clark, the chief floral designer, went to New York on a shopping
spree to try and get some decorations and red apples I think was on her list.
[Laughter] And she ran across the place called the Studio
56 in New York. And they had a product that was called real fake snow. And what it was
was white terrafin run through a machine. It was filmy and thin. We got this product
and tried it on a small table-top tree. I think we did it in the summer. It was crazy.
But we did it in the summer. And Ted Graber, we were putting little handfuls on the tree.
He said, “No, that’s not the way snow falls.” He walked over and grabbed a box of snow and
turned it upside down on the tree. And that’s the way — it looked like it was natural.So
what we did was we put the scaffoldings up, we’d go to the top of the tree and take boxes
of this real fake snow and just literally throw it up in the air and let it fall down
on the tree. And it gave this wonderful look, as you can see.
>>Tim Gunn: It does.>>But in the Grand Foyer when the tourists
came up from the ground floor, up the stairs, they made a left-hand turn and went into the
Grand Foyer, these trees, multiple stacks of trees, and you could visibly see them shiver
as they walked in because it seemed like it was so cold. They looked real.
At the parties, the kids used to love to run and slide up under the trees like they were
in the snow drifts.>>Tim Gunn: Did this become a tradition?
>>Well, different First Ladies used it. The next slide, with the Bushes.
>>Tim Gunn: Yes.>>Mrs. Bush said, I’ve gone through six years
of snow at the White House and I don’t want it to stop. She said it’s a wonderful tradition
that Nancy started. And that’s why the snow. And you can see here in the foyer on the right-hand
side as you’re looking at it, how it looks like it’s been in a snowstorm.
>>Tim Gunn: It’s very beautiful. So here we are with the Bushes. What are we looking
at on the right?>>Mrs. Bush favored literacy. So they actually
hung books on the trees. They were some of the ornaments. They were part of the table-top
decor as well. You’re always looking for big things. You were looking for apples, but other
people are looking for big stuff to put on the tree to take up space. And books served
that purpose. These I think were all literary characters one year.
>>This was another year. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Annabelle dolls?
They’re collectibles out of Pennsylvania. We went, once again, Nancy Clark went up and
met with the people at the company. We bought the basic structures of these ornaments and
animals. And then they brought them back and hand-painted them in the florist shop and
put — created the animal’s cape, clothing for the dolls. That went on the trees and
also on the mantels throughout the house.>>Tim Gunn: They’re much merrier and more
cheerful than those Nutcrackers.>>They became better artists.
>>Tim Gunn: We have more needlepoint.>>This one blows me away. I think this is
the year of the needlepoint where all the Blue Room ornaments were done by needlepoint.
>>Tim Gunn: This sounds like some sort of torture treatment.
>>Also they did a whole needlepoint village, like a train village under one of the trees.
I interviewed one of the people who worked on these. She said, “We were panic-stricken
that we weren’t going to get these finished because they were so time intensive and needed
so many of them.”>>Tim Gunn: Can I ask a question about the
needlepoint? Why? [Laughter]
>>Barbra Bush loves to needlepoint.>>Tim Gunn: Well, let her.
[Laughter]>>She wanted to share. I’ll let you take
that up with her.>>You will get a very ardent person. She
did her needlepoint when she picked it up, was when the President was the Ambassador
to China. She needed an activity flying back and forth.
>>Tim Gunn: She took up a good one.>>Actually when she started doing needlepoint,
her church got together and did a needlepoint creche. They presented to she and the President
when they were at the Vice President’s residence so they would have a creche in their home
at the Vice President’s residence. When she came to the White House, she brought that
and decided why not do a needlepoint, the guild all over the country. That was a continuation
of an effort that’s going on today. That’s an outreach across the country to use different
groups. I’ve gotten in more trouble than I can tell
you. When a new First Lady comes into the White House and after trying to go through
the campaign, go through the thank yous, parties after inaugural, then the Chief Usher comes
up to the First Lady two weeks later and says we need to start thinking about Christmas.
And all the First Ladies have said: I haven’t even picked a staff yet and you’re asking
me to think about Christmas? She picked that up very quickly.
>>Tim Gunn: How many of these needlepoint ornaments were there?
>>Hundreds I think.>>Over 600. And some of them were like the
house here, were done –>>Three dimensional.
>>Done not on canvas but on the plastic mesh. That’s how they got the houses to stand together.
My daughter ended up doing Millie’s dog house. Tended up as part of the decorations. They
were on the mantelpieces once again. Storybook characters. It was an amazing Christmas.
You don’t like the needlepoint, Tim?>>Tim Gunn: It pains me because I know how
labor intensive it is. It makes the folk art tree seem like a walk in the park.
>>I told you you had a lot of time.>>Tim Gunn: Yeah.
>>I believe that that Millie ornament, the First Lady made herself of the dog. She participated.
She made ornaments as well that year.>>Tim Gunn: As well she should.
[Laughter] And now we have Mrs. Clinton. This is her
first tree? 1995. The theme is “Twas the night before Christmas.”
>>Which was fun because they did a couple of things that were interesting. They reached
out to architecture schools to create different ornaments for the house in the night before
Christmas and I believe they reached out to culinary schools to represent the night before
Christmas. And that was I believe a sugar mantel if I’m right, Gary, in the Green Room
there.>>Yes. It created a great bit of consternation.
>>Tim Gunn: Why is that?>>Well, it was a pastry. And it was sitting
on a mantel against French silk. And there’s also a fireplace under it which was lit every
evening. I believe her name was Collette.>>It was.
>>We had long discussions. You can’t see it there in the photograph, but we ended up
with the piece of Plexiglas behind the pastry to shield the cloth and the front where the
greenery hides an insulation shield which kept the heat from melting the pastry work.
>>Tim Gunn: It’s a “Make It Work” moment. And you did.
>>That ended up being my job. I ended up being more of a person that says, “You want
to do what?” Let’s talk about this for a minute, with the garlands hung on the top, throughout
the house.>>Tim Gunn: It’s beautiful.
>>There was a lot of negotiation on how decorations would go up.
>>So they had snowmen one year. This I always liked. This was all pastry, right, Gary?
>>Yes.>>This Christmas tree here. This is all sugar
work. And another sugar fireplace. Just really amazing, intricate work.
>>Beautiful.>>That was in the Grand Foyer. On that table,
the marble, white martial top table, was part of the purchase after the White House was
burnt in the War of 1812. It was purchased by President Monroe for the Blue Room. It
now resides in the Grand Foyer of the White House, just inside the north portico door.
It becomes a prop for the decoration. Once again a lot of talk about how to preserve.
Make sure we didn’t do anything either to the mirror, the gold gild or anything. But
I think it works out well.>>That was one of my favorite pieces in the
house. I didn’t know that.>>Tim Gunn: What is this? The world’s most
elaborate chandelier? Good heavens.>>What happened was — we had a course of
work to repair the three chandeliers in the East Room. We worked it out in such a way
that one at the north end had been done, one at the south end had been done, the one in
the middle was left open>>This wreath was done to take the place
of the chandelier. It was a monstrous undertaking with a number of National Park Service, engineers,
and architects. There’s an architect on my staff making sure it wasn’t too heavy for
the support. That support actually goes up in the floor of the Queen’s Bedroom above.
There’s an access hatch that allows you to get to that support.
>>Tim Gunn: I still don’t know that I’d have the courage to stand under it.
>>You could have danced under it. It happened many a night.
>>Tim Gunn: I don’t know, Gary. It is beautiful.>>It says here that it’s — I see, “complementing
the gold of the East Room creche with a 600-point gold and silver advent wreath.” Goodness gracious.
>>Tim Gunn: It’s scary.>>Yes.
>>Tim Gunn: What are we looking at on the right?
>>I think the First Lady was honoring historic places and homes.
>>Tim Gunn: Yes.>>I think a lot of buildings here. The other
thing I was going to point out, the Clintons used the same tree skirt every year in the
Blue Room. There’s a patch from each state on the left that was quilted on. So that was
one of the things that remained constant through the Clinton Administration. But these are
more I think of the historic homes that we were honoring across America.
>>A little bit of a funny story.>>Tim Gunn: Sure.
>>Over the summer we were looking at photos. We were thinking about the decorations for
this year. I said I’ve seen this photo from the Clinton Administration. There’s a beautiful
wreath. We started looking into if it was available to use again. And I had the pictures
on our kitchen table. And my son said, “Oh, you’re putting up an O for Obama?” [Laughter]
And I quick called and said we might want to rethink the O.
But the other thing was we found out that it had been repurposed as a Halloween wreath
as some point. So it no longer existed for us anyway. I just thought, you know, through
the eyes of kids, that was pretty funny.>>Tim Gunn: And the next Bush White House.
Yes, we get it. [Laughter]
>>I think this year was “Home for the holidays” might have been the theme. They recreated
all of the presidential homes in miniature dollhouse forms. I’ve seen these in the warehouse.
They still exist. They’re really quite lovely.>>Tim Gunn: They’re wonderful.
>>They invited me to come and see the one — the Texas White House. They had the beagle
dogs.>>It was accurate?
>>Oh, the beagle dogs are not there. We never decorated like that.
>>Designer’s license.>>Of course, we never had that kind of tree.
>>Once again, the chief floral designer went to the National Park Service and went to all
the sites and got the architecturally drawings. And the White House Carpenter shop created
each and every one of these homes to scale.>>Tim Gunn: Beautiful.
>>And, again, literary characters we’re going to see popping up. “Alice in Wonderland.”
>>Tim Gunn: Great.>>So this year — well, that was — their
last Christmas was a patriotic Christmas. This was the year that Nancy Clark was nice
enough to bring me in. The funny thing is we were creating this snow again. So we were
given this instruction to make it look like a beautiful snowy scene. So we worked very
hard. First Lady, Mrs. Bush would often walk through. And we got notes. And the notes were,
“Oh, dear, there’s too much snow.” We thought, ok, we can regroup. We would start taking
the snow away. They’d say, “Oh, dear, now there’s too little snow.” So we’d go through
this process a couple of times. We’d say can we have a little more feedback. And Nancy
Clark says envision that there’s been a fresh snowfall and then it’s three days later and
the snow has melted and reset. I said, “All right. I’m from Jersey. You do not want snow
the third day after it’s on the ground.”>>Tim Gunn: No. You want a fresh snowfall.
>>That was the only time I spoke up. The rest of the time I behaved. The point was
the First Lady had a vision. And she knew what it was. And we were really there just
to make it happen, to make it work for her. And when we finally got the finished product,
it really was beautiful. And it was worth all the give and take.
>>Is cleanup just the worst with that stuff?>>That was just the cotton that you would
like — I don’t know where they bought it.>>The real fake stuff?
>>We just took the trees down, let it fall on the floor wherever it was and I went out
and had Carpenters buy plastic snow shovels. That’s how we got it off marble floors.
>>Tim Gunn: And now to the present day. The Obama White House.
>>One of the things that Mrs. Obama always does is the first holiday activity of the
season is with children of military personnel serving in active service. In that way she
honors them. I think this year they were making some type of — I’m sure low-cal, low-sugar
treats.>>Tim Gunn: And tasty, also.
>>Yes.>>That’s the state dining room.
That Hawaii ball that you saw, they were supposedly underneath as a very unattractive gold plastic
ball that was recycled. They decorated over them. And I think — was this America the
Beautiful or America the Brave? The Blue Room tree — I think that might be this year. This
is I think this year’s Blue Room tree.>>Tim Gunn: It is.
>>The Blue Room tree under Mrs. Obama has always had some type of military significance
honoring our men and women who are serving or who have served.
>>Tim Gunn: It pays tribute to our armed forces through the eyes of children.
>>All in this tree are very humble, too. Burlap ribbons, piece of log. All of these
mediums that are super available and approachable to everyone everywhere else. These are gorgeous.
That’s this year.>>This is the room which the volunteers nicknamed
the vermouth room.>>What’s happening?
>>You just go crazy. Really beautiful dress form. So the First Lady had this idea which
I thought was just so neat given her take on fashion. We were so lucky that two volunteers
showed up in our mix. One was a teacher at Parsons. The other was a dress maker. They
were really able to take the lead on this for us.
>>Tim Gunn: They’re beautiful.>>The one on the left has a fabric undergarment,
like a hoop skirt. It kept getting weighted down by all of the bows. You need a lot of
evergreen to cover those skirts.>>Tim Gunn: Absolutely. Wire instead of cloth.
>>Yes. The other was out of wire. It worked a lot quicker.
>>I think the ornament on the left, we had the White House held an ornament contest this
year to make a 3D ornament. I believe this was the winner or one of the winners on the
left.>>A lot of blues this year throughout the
White House, which I thought was a very non-traditional Christmas color that just looked gorgeous
with the traditional reds and greens. It’s kind of that antique gray blue.
>>Tim Gunn:It is beautiful.>>And I can tell a secret. If you go back
to the picture — you tell it.>>No, you go ahead.
>>So Jim Marvin, who we mentioned earlier, who has come back for many, many years and
did the State Room this year, you may see that the volunteers hung a J and an M on the
tree in honor of him. Yup, the J and the M for Jim Marvin.
>>Tim Gunn: Very nice.>>Did you think I was going to tell a different
secret?>>Yeah.
>>Yeah, I’m not telling that. That one I’m not telling.
>>There’s a number of things that go on, like I said, of putting decorations up and
how they go up. Like the garland over top of the fireplace in the State Dining Room.
It has to be supported. And the mantels in there dates back from the early years of the
White House. There’s not a whole lot of support. So it has to be very closely engineered. And
this year there was a small failure. The garland came crashing down. Luckily no damage occurred
to the portrait of President Lincoln. It’s one of those things that happens just like
in your home. If you have a cat and it runs up the tree and the dog chases it, over goes
the tree.>>Tim Gunn: And the delivery of the tree.
This looks like quite a production.>>Once again, this is process of delivering
the tree to the White House started in the Johnson Administration with the National Christmas
Tree Association. This is the way the tree is delivered. It actually comes from different
parts of the country. I had an opportunity to go to Washington and Oregon and Wisconsin
and North Carolina, and just about every state in the Union where the Christmas trees came
from. They get transported sometimes by National Guard, sometimes they come by private truck.
It’s all done by donation from the Christmas Tree Growers Association. When it gets to
the Pennsylvania Avenue gate, it’s offloaded from the trucks and placed on this wagon and
then the horse-drawn carriage brings it up to the north portico. I think this year Mrs.
Obama commented about how big the tree was and it was going to be difficult to get in.
You know the story about that.>>No, I’m going to let you tell it.
>>I think they had to take the doors off their hinges.
>>They did.>>Tree trouble. There was some tree trouble.
>>It’s not first time that’s happened. Back about 25 years ago we got a tree that we literally
could not get in the doors. We ended up taking the doors on the south down and used a crane
to crane it through the south portico, over the railing and in through the south side.
It was seven inches wider at the door at the south side than the north.
>>And that’s on your shoulders, right? If the tree doesn’t fit, you take the blame?
>>Yeah. [Laughter]
>>Tim Gunn: The limbs are malleable, are they not?
>>It depends on the temperature.>>Tim Gunn: Ok.
>>When they wrap the tree. Once they’re wrapped — you can see the heavy ropes on the tree
to pull it tight. If it’s too –>>Tim Gunn: It’s brought in wrapped.
>>Yeah. If it’s too cold when they transport it, if they pull it too tightly, all the limbs
snap. I can’t say that that hasn’t occurred in past years. We had to go out and get another
tree at the last second.>>Tim Gunn: What’s the story of the cranberry
tree?>>I think Mrs. Ford started the cranberry
tree. It’s a colonial decoration, topiary. And for many, many years it was done just
like this. Two little old ladies would painstakingly dip their pen in Elmer’s Glue and then put
it on to the Styrofoam form. I believe the story is they always made two.
One would stay in refrigeration and one would be out. Half way through the season they would
swap them. Then Mrs. Obama has reinterpreted this. Her first year in office there was a
cranberry mantel instead of the tree.>>Tim Gunn: We have the picture.
>>This is the reinterpretation. They’ve done a couple of different things. So the cranberry
tree has transformed. And you can hot glue them.
>>Peppercorns one year, too. Really beautiful.>>For years Nancy Clark and I had a running
argument about that cranberry tree. She wanted to do away with it because it took two volunteers
over two days 10 hours a day. Each one was done individually. About a third of the cranberries
that they used didn’t hold up when they were trying to put them in. I said it was a tradition
that I personally liked and therefore we would continue it. It wasn’t until after I left
that Nancy found another way.>>And the White House Historical Association
ornaments. How long has this been a tradition?>>33rd year.
>>Tim Gunn: The 33rd year. They’re incredibly beautiful. It’s a remarkable legacy to have.
>>It also helps the White House Historical Association support the educational program
about the White House and the families that live there. It is the main source of funds
for that purpose. And through the years it has grown. For a while there it was exponential
growth. Now it’s pretty much topped out. Although it is continuing to grow. And the ornaments
— the people that get the first set — I had neighbors across the street. I gave them
the first set, the first four years. They said if you decide to move away and don’t
give us the ornament, we’ll never talk to you again. So once you get the set started,
I think 81 was the first year, then if people want to keep the set going forever.
>>Tim Gunn: And it’s holiday time. So we have Hanukkah in the White House as well.
Coleen?>>We’ve also had the Obamas recognize Kwanzaa.
I believe President Nixon may have been the first to have a Menorah in the White House.
President Bush was the first to have it I guess in the West Wing. There’s been representation
of other religions through the year. I think a conscious effort in the last couple of years
has been made to include others.>>Tim Gunn: Very good. And we have White
House pets.>>Whenever your approval rating goes down,
the White House pet is a good thing to have.>>Tim Gunn: It is a good thing to have. So
we had the Nixon family pets on the left. And the Bush’s dog, Millie, on the right.
And we had the cat. And Buddy.>>I think under the Bush — under George
W. they started the Barney cam. Is that right? The internet videos that were all the rage
of the first pets going around. They wore little cameras. You could see the decorations
from their point of view.>>Tim Gunn: I loved that.
>>You can still go back and look at it. It’s the Barney cam.
>>Tim Gunn: Yes. Yes. Exactly.>>And Sunny and Bo are really big and popular.
Literally they’re really big. Like this year I think a mile ribbon was used on each of
the animals. The children love them.>>Tim Gunn: And that was Caroline Kennedy’s
pony, Macaroni.>>There they are.
>>Tim Gunn: And behind Bo is a four-foot statue made out of 40,000 pipe cleaners.
>>Yes.>>Tim Gunn: Maybe they should have made Bo
out of cranberries. [Laughter]
>>I think this year they are both mechanized, Bo and Sonny.
>>Tim Gunn: Is that right?>>They call them Bobots.
>>Tim Gunn: This is our last slide.>>This is represents what the White House
is all about at Christmas. These military people represent obviously our military. They
were just at the end of the evening, a long evening, standing in front of the fireplace,
enjoying the decoration and the camaraderie that goes along with being at the White House.
But all the visitors that come to the White House at some point have a moment like this
where they can enjoy the decorations, and enjoy what is the White House home.
>>Tim Gunn: Beautiful. We want to thank all of you. We ran longer than planned. We had
a lot of information to convey. Thank you all so much.
We’re going to open the floor for just a couple of questions. Then we’ll let everybody run.
If you have any questions. And then afterwards, Coleen is signing her book. Thank you for
that. It’s a treat if you haven’t seen it. A lot of content.
>>And no questions. We covered everything.>>Tim Gunn: Any questions?
>>Up here.>>Tim Gunn: There’s a microphone. Yes. We’re
high-tech here.>>Thank you. This was a lot of fun and great
for the Christmas spirit.>>Tim Gunn: Thank you.
>>Everybody loves all the ornaments and decorations. But then you got to take them down. So do
all the volunteers come back to help take them down or is it White House staff? What’s
the process?>>Tim Gunn: They just shake the tree.
>>A portion of the volunteers come back to take — they do all of this at their own expense.
There’s no government expense associated with this. The decorators come at their own expense.
A portion of the decorators that come back, those who are very good workers. Because we
take the decorations down in less than one day.
>>Tim Gunn: Easier to take them down than put them up.
>>It is. But each decoration has to come down and be cataloged just like when it went
up.>>Tim Gunn: To account for.
>>The National Archives would like us to have some record of what we have.
>>Where they are.>>Tim Gunn: Yes?
>>Hi. Thank you so much. This is a great program. Do you guys know what happened to
the Corcoran ornaments now that it is closing and going into G.W.?
>>Tim Gunn: I know. They all came back with us. The individuals who made them took them
back. I took great pride in giving away White House Christmas tree candy-colored Styrofoam
ornaments for years, for years. Because we paid for everything.
>>So they’re floating around eBay somewhere right now.
>>Tim Gunn: They may very well be. I honestly don’t know what happened to my two ornaments.
I don’t know. Thank you, Mrs. Carter.>>I think if they’re on eBay, the price just
went up. Gary, a question for you. My mom was a volunteer
at the White House under George W. Bush. She just always enjoyed when you came and spoke
to the volunteers and appreciated all the hard work that they did. But rumor had it
you were going to write a book. Where is that book you were going to write?
>>It’s a good rumor. I’ve just personally decided that for the time being, you know,
we’re a little further away from when I retired, but I had the opportunity and the pleasure
to serve some great families. They were always very nice to me and very kind. A lot of what
I know and the questions that come out are very personal and I’d prefer to keep them
to myself.>>Tim Gunn: Well done.
>>Thank you.>>Tim Gunn: We thank you. And one last question.
>>How does one become a volunteer and how early in the year do you need to apply for
that?>>Now.
>>One other quick question. I saw on the 1999 ornament I think it was Lincoln, they
had hinges. I was wondering if it opened.>>It does. It articulates. I can’t remember.
>>Was it Abe Lincoln?>>Thank you.
>>Tim Gunn: Thank you all very much. Thank you, Lynda, Genevieve, Gary, and Coleen. Wonderful.
Thank you so much. [Applause]
And Coleen, thank you again for agreeing to a book signing. Have a great holiday, everyone.

Stephen Childs

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