Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 15, 2012

Traditional festival begins Saturday at Paramount Arts Center

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — People who create works of art for the annual Paramount Arts Center Festival of Trees and Trains simply see things differently, according to Tree Chairman Rhonda Ballengee.

“We look at a tree totally different, These are works of art on trees. These trees are art. These trees are scultptures,” Ballengee said while working on her own tree based on Tim Burton’s movie version of “Alice in Wonderland,” topped with a massive Mad Hatter chapeau and accentuated by literal details including masses of mushrooms. Ballengee said tree artists may spend only a day or so assembling their visions, although they often have weeks invested in the details of each project.

As an example, Ballengee points out the level of detail included in a mini-tree based on “The Secret Garden,” created by Lydia Crawford, Tyna Conley, Sherry Pyles and Sharon Sinclair.

“When we started, we just wanted to do something simple,” Crawford said as she and Conley tended to tiny items included in the enclosed garden at the base of their festival tree. The plan for a simple tree quickly went out the window as each designer came up with new ideas and a painstaking level of detail (there are spiders and turtles in the garden, along with a fountain and other details taken from the book). The idea ultimately involved husbands, Dan Pyles and Greg Crawford, who cut the walls and engineered the miniature display. “Every year we end up getting them involved,” Conley noted.

Tree designer Jim Shope will have three trees in this year’s festival display reflecting themes from “Ice Castles” to John Wayne and “Little House on the Prairie.” Shope, who has had trees in the Festival of Trees and Trains for 26 of the event’s 28 years, said he enjoyed the diversity of this year’s movie theme.

“I have New York, western and primitive,” he said.

As Shara Adkins and Tracy Williams worked on the lights of a tree by Carter Christian Academy honoring “The Last Ounce of Courage,” Trains chairman Christy Reaves emerged from the scaffolding and foundations for this year’s elaborate model railroad layout dominating the balcony section of the historic theater. Detail and expert workmanship, she said, are among the most crucial factors for the working exhibit.

“This is a six-day set up with a daily crew of 20 to 25. It is a lot of fine detail and it takes a lot of experts,” she said, noting the need for expertise in areas ranging from electrical to carpentry and model-making.

“Like this year, we have a bakery coming in and inside the bakery there will be small items made by Pendleton Art Center artist Jennifer Hamilton,” Reaves said, pointing to the future location of the bakery within the village being built in the balcony. “There’s a lot of people who come together to help.”

Reaves said 12,000 people are expected to attend this year’s Festival of Trees and Trains, with the largest crowds anticipated on Thanksgiving and the following weekend. Those who don’t want to deal with crowds are encouraged to visit the Paramount on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday, she said.

Festivities officially begin Saturday at 9 a.m., followed by “Miracle on 34th Street” by the Paramount Players from 10 a.m. to noon. Children are invited to join Santa in his workshop for cocoa from noon to 3 p.m., and the Heritage Hoedowners will kick up their heels at 5 p.m., followed by Wizards of Dance. Rounding out the evening, Katie Owens and Levi Ausmus will perform at 7 p.m., followed by Bridget Reynolds at 8 p.m. On Sunday, the festival opens at noon with a performance by Ashland Regional Youth Ballet at 1 p.m. Musician Isaac Stephens will perform at 2 p.m., followed by River Magic Chorus at 3 p.m., King’s Way Church at 4 p.m., Kelly’s Bridge Band at 5 p.m. and the Advance Methodist Hand Bell Choir at 6 p.m.