It is hoped the City of Clinton’s first-ever commemorative Christmas ornament will be the first of many, an inaugural memento that stretches into a series of collectible keepsakes for years to come. If the initial response from local consumers is any indication, the effort will have plenty of support.
“They went really fast,” said Debbie Roberts of the ornaments. “We knew people would want to collect them every year. It is the courthouse from years back and it is absolutely gorgeous.”
This year, a subcommittee of the Clinton Main Street’s Design and Promotion committees designed the inaugural ornament, which features the Sampson County Courthouse and a small history of the courthouse on the accompanying tag. Roberts and Helen Kearns, with assistance from local business owner Jimmy Matthews, Sampson County historian Joel Rose and other Clinton Main Street Program committee members, brought the idea to fruition.
“This turned out to be a really big project,” Roberts said.
For years, Kearns had been trying to find the best way to offer a commemorative ornament that shared some of Clinton’s rich history, which could turn into a series if the ornaments proved popular. A collector of the annual White House ornaments for more than two decades, Kearns said the product if done with care would catch on quickly.
It was not until Matthews attended a Christmas Gift Show in Atlanta this past January that the idea came into clearer view. After seeing one particular hand-painted ornament, he brought a sample back to Kearns, who works for Matthews. She loved it.
“I had tried for the last couple years to get a memento for Christmas in the City,” she said.
At the upcoming Christmas in the City event this week, as well as throughout the holiday season, the city’s first-ever Christmas ornament was expected to be available for purchase. Not only a keepsake, all proceeds from sales of the ornament will be used for projects and beautification in downtown Clinton.
However, Kearns said it has been tough to keep the initial order of 144 on the shelves. They are long gone from Matthews Cards & Gifts and have similarly been snatched up from Burney’s, Royal Gifts & Fine China, Simply NC and Sessoms Jewelry. Well over 100 ornaments had been sold as of Monday with about 25 still left for purchase. Those will be reserved for Thursday’s Christmas in the City, she said.
The hope is to get everyone the inaugural collectible ornament who wants one, Kearns said. For some, it just might not be on their Christmas tree this year.
“We’ll take orders at Christmas in the City so they will have the first ornament. They just won’t have it until next spring,” she stated. “We wanted people to have the entire collection so we will re-order this year but never again.”
Made in China but distributed from a California company, the ornaments are made through what is described as a “painstaking process.” Rose provided the picture for the ornament, which shows the bright red brick of the courthouse in its past glory with classic cars parked out front.
“They took our picture and then they hand-painted each one of them from the inside-out,” Kearns explained. “I think it came out spectacular. I’m excited about it. I liked the idea of having the old cars on the ornament. It gives you that feeling of nostalgia. I think it is so cool.”
The courthouse was built in 1904 as the third and completely new Sampson County Courthouse, according to the description provided by Rose. The brick building was built for $30,000 and featured balconies and a large four-sided clock tower. In 1938-39, the courthouse was completely remodeled to its present state by the addition of two wings and a red brick veneer at a cost of $100,000, a massive undertaking at the time. The clock tower was topped by a rounded copper dome that serves as a recognizable symbol for both the City of Clinton and Sampson County.
For those who purchase an ornament, a survey is included asking for their assistance in selecting the design for the 2016 Christmas in the City ornament. There are three choices of local historic properties given, including College Street School, the former Clinton Post Office and the “Milling Around” art piece.
Kearns said College Street School will likely be the subject of 2016’s design.
“Since this was our first experience, we ordered 144,” said Kearns.
With the hand-crafting process, a February order of 144 ornaments takes until September or October to be delivered. Based on orders this year and next year, Kearns said she and others hope to gauge the demand a bit better for years to come.
“We will have a better idea of what we have and what we need to order next year,” she remarked.
As with this year’s courthouse ornament, each of the commemorative ornaments in future years will come with a similar history lesson behind the scene depicted as well as an explanation of the process by which they are crafted, including the two-day effort that goes into making each of the ornaments, from the hand-blown glass to the detailed application of each of the colors.
“No two pieces are identical,” Kearns said of the process. “I think that’s what sets it apart.”
Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose, who serves as the Main Street Program manager, echoed the hopes of Kearns and Roberts that a successful inaugural outing would prove just the first in a series of annual Christmas ornaments displaying Clinton’s past and present.
“These will make great holiday and Christmas gifts,” she said. “This will be the first of hopefully many in the years to come.”
The ornaments are being sold for $20 each. For more information on the availability of ornaments and to order, contact the Clinton-Sampson Planning and Development office at 910-299-4904.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.