A 21-foot Virginia Pine stands in the Texas House of Representatives chamber in the Capitol in Austin, adorned with Christmas decorations custom-made by artists throughout the state.
One of them is from Wise County.
Melanie Singleton, owner-operator of Singleton Art Studio in Bridgeport, created the ornament that represents District 61, which includes Wise and Parker counties. She was recommended for the job by Chico mayor J.D. Clark, who contacted State Rep. Phil King.
King said he was happy to be able to put a local artist’s work on the Capitol tree.
“Having Melanie as the artist for the district ornament is an incredible opportunity for both her and our district,” he said. “It is an honor to share a piece of our history with thousands of visitors who will travel to Austin this holiday season to visit their state Capitol and view the Lone Star Celebration Christmas Tree.”
The Capitol actually has six Christmas trees. The 21-foot tree in the House chamber is from Elves Farm in Denison. Three 7-foot Virginia Pines are also on display, compliments of McNew Star M Christmas Tree Plantation in Hunt County. There are also two 8-foot Fraser Firs from Elgin – all provided by the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association.
The district ornament project began in 2009 as a way to give all of the unique Texas communities a place on the Lone Star Celebration Christmas Tree in the House chamber. This year’s ornaments were placed on the tree Dec. 6 and will hang through Jan. 2. The story of each ornament is displayed in an album in the House Chamber so that visitors to the Capitol may learn each ornament’s story.
Singleton’s ornament is more than just a painted glass ball – it is adorned with peach blossoms and pecans, representing key features of the rural landscape of Wise and Parker counties.
“The ornament I created took probably 30 hours,” Singleton said. “It’s not painted – it’s basically kind of a little sculpture.”
Singleton said she wanted to capture this area in a unique way as she began to sketch out the concept.
“I’m kind of a nature person, so I came up with the idea of trees,” she said. “I didn’t want to go with cows and oil rigs.
“Then I looked out in my backyard and saw all my pecan trees and thought, ‘That looks good because we have pecan trees here and Weatherford has peach trees.’ So I sculpted out pecans and peach blooms in clay, then adhered them to the glass.”
The ornament had to be baked, then refined, sanded, painted and glazed.
“I wanted it to be really good so I took pains to make it really nice,” she said.
Singleton said she accidentally crushed the first 4-inch bulb they sent her, so what hangs on the Capitol tree is actually “plan B.”
Although Singleton is mostly known for her pastel and oil portraits, she is also an art teacher, and she had done projects with her classes that involve some of the techniques used in creating the ornament.
“We’ve done projects similar to that – putting clay on glass balls – so I was familiar with that and knew it would work,” she said. “I wanted it to be dimensional rather than just painted. I wanted mine to be a little different.”
All the pieces attached to the ornament are edged with painted-on gold leaf in a technique called “cloisone .”
Singleton has owned and operated Singleton Art Studio in Bridgeport since 1989. Although originally self-taught, she honed her talents by studying with artists Greg Conlin of Dallas, the late Steve Grey of Wichita Falls and Kaye Franklin of Graham.
She also studied briefly with David Leffel at the Art Student’s League in New York City. Some of her portraits now hang in the Wise County Courthouse and the Wise County Historical Museum.
Singleton has won numerous awards in regional art competitions including several Best of Show awards. Her work is in many private and public collections throughout the United States, and she served as president of the Wise County Art Association for 10 years.
Though labor-intensive, the Capitol tree ornament is not a paying gig. But Singleton is happy to make her contribution.
“I was really honored to be able to take part in it,” she said. “It made me feel good to be able to hang something on the Capitol tree.”
Now at least one Wise County resident can say that when it comes to the halls of government – she’s decked ‘em.