Through the work of tireless volunteers, the San Joaquin County Historical Museum was decked out in its holiday finest for the annual Festival of Trees.
The festival has become a December tradition after 21 years. Families came out even under heavy cloud cover to make crafts, take in the museum’s exhibits and enjoy the holiday decorations.
Museum docents and volunteers were dressed in their historical best. Women wore old fashioned gowns and shawls, while one man wore a top hat and fancy vest.
That man was Jack Johnson, a past president of the docent council. He said the festival is the historical soceity’s biggest fundraiser of the year. They normally raise about $20,000 in a single weekend.
“The crowd has been real steady today, even with the rain,” he said.
On Saturday, the place was teeming with children and their parents, eager to see what holiday surprises waited in each building.
One was entirely dedicated to swags.
The members of the historical society and the Museum Docent Council gather odds and ends from their own gardens, craft rooms and holiday decor all year long. When it’s time to set up for the festival, great tubs and boxes of greenery, ribbons and sparkle are carried to the Hammer Restoration Building for swag assembly.
In essence, the swags are simple boughs of pine tied up with a bow, but each shows off the creativity of its creator. Along with a shop full of swags for sale, these Swag Ladies created over 70 pieces decorating the entire museum grounds.
Mary Anne Blomgren, of Lodi, collects fallen pine cones and branches from her trips up the coast each year. She paints pieces of driftwood with Santa scenes.
Julie Gillespie said the idea is to do a lot of recycling from former holiday projects.
“They’re always very original, she said. “No two are ever exactly alike.”
While the Swag Ladies had the floral crafting under control, two men were channeling their inner child by running an elaborate table top train set in another building.
Seven model train engines were running simultaneously on interwoven track, timed and set up to avoid crashes. When one engine needed a bit of work, it was pulled into a work station behind a massive mountain backdrop.
Jim Kulbert was deep in concentration repairing the engine of one train. It was running slowly on the track, then stopped altogether. In a busy tablescape, one silent train just wouldn’t do.
Volunteer Jim Wilcox started playing with model trains when he was a child, after his father bought him his first set. A friend of his roped him into working at the festival, and he’s been running the trains every since.
“This gives me an opportunity to have fun,” he said. The kids, no matter how little or big, always enjoy it."
Two trains puffed out smoke rings as they chugged along the tracks.
Five year old Ronald Hightower Jr. watched the trains in awe. His parents Denise and Ronald Hightower, of Stockton, had his same grin as they too were mesmerized by the train set.
The real highlight of the festival is the dozens of trees displayed around the museum with creative themes.
From golden pears to Model A Fords to U.S. presidents and their first ladies, the trees represented a wide range of interests.
The fun continues on Sunday. The festival is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adult tickets are $8 while children aged two to ten are $1. Tickets must be purchased for several craft activities.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.