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Local artists put handmade Christmas ornaments on display

Ceramic artist Virginia Carter doesn’t have to look far to find inspiration for the grinning wildlife that grace many of her Christmas tree ornaments.

“The moose walk through our yard,” Carter, who lives on the west side of Mount Spokane, said. “They’re very inspiring.”

For the ninth straight year, Carter’s handcrafted porcelain decorations will beckon visitors from the windows of Garland’s Tinman Gallery as part of the shop’s annual ornament show. A dozen local artists, working in mediums as varied as ceramic and glass to discarded alphabet blocks and vintage mint tins, have contributed pieces to the display, which benefits the Spokane Art School next door.

“Every year we have people specifically collect certain artists,” said Tinman’s Jodi Davis, pointing to an origami Christmas tree crafted by one of the show’s regulars. Artists will work up motifs each year, Davis said, then switch to a different theme the following year, making each Christmas’ batch of ornaments instant collector’s items. Prices for the items range from about $10 to $40, with all of the proceeds going to the art school.

Ken Frybarger, who uses a glass-melting technique called “lampworking” to sculpt his work, contributed several ornaments for the first time this year. Trace amounts of gold give his pieces, molded specifically to bring out the strands of lights adorning most trees, a pinkish hue.

“I’m just playing with the optics,” Frybarger said. A request from Tinman owner Sue Bradley prompted Frybarger to produce additional pieces after donating a couple to the gallery’s Yuletide fundraiser earlier this month, he said. Each piece takes him about a half hour to fashion, he said.

Carter’s ceramic creations can take even longer to finish, depending on the subject, she said. In addition to moose, she enjoys hand-painting polar bears framed by a deep navy blue sky, their white fur popping off the ceramic surface.

Carter, whose pieces have been featured in every Tinman ornament show, said the sale allows Spokane revelers to show off their own piece of local art. She decks her own tree – a fresh-cut fir from the forests of Mount Spokane – with the art of others.

“It’s always more fun to put other people’s art up on your tree,” Carter said.