Jean Blue’s artwork hanging at White House|[12/05/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Artist Jean Blue considers the Vicksburg National Military Park “hallowed ground.” That’s why, she said, it was an honor for her to be asked by park Superintendent Monika Mayr to paint an ornament depicting the park. Now, Blue’s ornament is in the White House and is to become an archived item.

“It’s a real honor. I wanted to do it to represent Vicksburg and the park,” said Blue, one of Vicksburg’s most popular and most frequently honored artists.

The Blue ornament is one of 347 hanging from a 20-foot Fraser fir celebrating the centennial of organizing the national parks.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“Every year something interesting comes up, and this year we’re moving up on the 100th anniversary of our National Park System, so I thought it would be really fun to celebrate our national parks,” first lady Laura Bush said in a television interview on NBC’s “Today.” “I hike in a national park — at least one every year, sometimes more than one.”

Once chosen as the signature artist for the Vicksburg ornament, Blue was sent a gold, plastic orb about the size of a cantaloupe.

“They suggested I paint the most dominant feature in the park. For me, that was the Illinois Memorial,” she said.

So it could be seen from all sides, Blue covered the whole sphere with the memorial, dedicated in the park in 1906 and modeled after the Roman Pantheon. It has 47 steps, one for each day of the Siege of Vicksburg the park was created to commemorate. Sixty bronze tablets line the interior walls and name all 36,325 Illinois soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg Campaign.

Blue also added a magnolia blossom to the bottom of the ornament to add a Southern touch.

“I wanted to put Mississippi in there,” she said.

Blue and the other selected artists were invited to see the tree in person at an event last week. She did not attend, but saw the tree that is the temporary home of her ornament on television. When the tree comes down, the works of art will become part of the White House Archive, she said.

“They showed a shot of the tree. It was loaded with ornaments,” she said.

The tradition of placing a decorated tree in the White House began in 1889 with President Benjamin Harrison. The tree, then, was lighted with candles and served as the centerpiece of the Harrisons’ family Christmas. Since that time, decorated trees have become a national tradition and, over the years, have reflected the tastes of the first family. First lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of Christmas tree themes when she decorated the 1961 Christmas tree with toys from “Nutcracker Suite” ballet by Tchaikovsky.

First ladies select themes, which have included everything from Lady Bird Johnson’s early American theme of nuts, popcorn, fruit, wood roses, a paper mache angel and gingerbread cookies to Betty Ford’s tree that featured homemade items, emphasizing thrift and recycling.

This year’s theme is being called “Holiday in the National Parks.” Each ornament displays the natural, cultural and recreational features preserved by the National Park Service. In addition to the Vicksburg park, created by Congress in 1899, the tree has handmade ornaments depicting sites, such as the Statue of Liberty, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Grand Canyon National Park.

“Mrs. Bush is the best champion for our national parks, and the beautiful decorations in each state room showcase the natural and historical treasures found in parks throughout the country,” said National Park Service Director Mary Bowmar.

Blue is at least the second local artist to have work featured in a White House holiday display. Marilyn Hardy was chosen in 1998 and 1999 to paint an egg to be part of the White House State Egg Display, held each Easter since 1994. Her egg featured, among other Mississippi scenes, the Old Court House Museum. The egg is now on display at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.