Ruth Andre of Blodgett was one of nine Missouri artists selected for the White House Christmas Ornament Commission this year.
An accomplished basket maker, Andre has been represented in shows and galleries across the United States. She makes gourd-weaving baskets and basket weaving kits.
Basketry has brought Andre many rewards since she started weaving, including her most recent one -- making a White House ornament.
"One day I got an e-mail from the Missouri governor's office, and I was asked if I would like to design an ornament for the White House Christmas tree," Andre recalled. "Of course I wrote back immediately, saying, 'Yes!'"
The next e-mail Andre received stated the White House would be sending out an official listing for the ornament theme, size, etc.
"I was in, and I truly do not know how I was chosen. There were nine artists from Missouri," Andre said.
The other artists were from St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, Clarksville, Joplin and Rogersville. St. Louis and Kansas City each had two artists honored.
Each artist was asked to design a bird indigenous to Missouri, with the White House theme being "All Creatures Great and Small." Andre immediately went to work, talking to the conservation department in Jefferson City and Cape Girardeau to see the listing of Missouri state birds.
"The Jefferson City office suggested I make the Greater Prairie Chicken since it is an endangered bird," Andre explained. "I found the Greater Prairie Chicken to be a delightful looking bird. It is a bird that lived along side the wild buffalo and is indeed endangered in the prairie states of its habitats."
Using a natural weaving material, honeysuckle vine and the twining weave technique that is used in basket making, Andre made the Greater Prairie Chicken ornament. She used dyed honeysuckle to give the weave a mottled more natural look.
"I had never attempted any kind of bird before so it was a challenge to design and then work the vine into the shape of the Prairie Chicken," Andre admitted. "Pure determination kept me going for several weeks as I learned how to weave with the honeysuckle."
First the vine had to be boiled and soaked for 24 hours. Then it was stripped. Andre had two pounds of honeysuckle so this took a couple of days. Then she made a basic form of a bird using wire and reed starting with the body neck. After the body and wings were completed, she made the head starting with a small bit of gourd for the bird's beak and then added the honeysuckle and wove the rest of the head and neck.
Andre and her husband, Tom, drove to Washington, D.C. for the artist reception Dec. 4. The White House staff gave the Andres a tour of several rooms, including the Blue Room, Green Room and the Red Room.
At the reception, First Lady Laura Bush spoke to the artists from all 50 states, telling them how much she appreciated their ornament gifts to the White House, Andre said.
Andre and her husband had their picture taken with Mrs. Bush and exchanged a few words with her. "She is a lovely woman, and I told her so," Andre said. "Then I told her to tell her husband that we love him and we pray for him everyday. She said, 'I will tell him.'"
When the Andres awoke the next day, all of Washington, D.C., was under snow.
"We drove for three hours watching cars run off the road and do 360s. Semi trucks were also falling victim to the ravages of the ice on the road. We felt like were driving an ice skate," Andre said.
In 1992, Andre moved with my husband to a small farm in Blodgett. Last week they sold their farm and will be moving back to their hometown in California to be with their family. The Andres may be leaving Missouri, but they will always have their memories.
Andre said, "It was a true honor to be chosen for the White House Ornament Commission, and I will treasure the memory of it always."