Elvira Butler, an area artist and art teacher, was the recipient this past Christmas season of two rare and distinct honors in the nation’s capitol. She was selected as the artist to decorate one of the ornaments that was placed on the 2008 White House Christmas tree.
Then, she and a friend from Cedaredge traveled to Washington D.C. for a reception hosted by America’s First Lady Laura Bush. The reception included an official luncheon for Elvira, her guest, and all of the other artists from around the country who had been selected by their congressional representatives to decorate ornaments for the White House Christmas tree.
“I can say that it was a distinct pleasure for me to enjoy dinner and the reception in the State Dining Room surrounded by all of the history and wonderful furnishings,” Elvira said.
Elvira is an art teacher in the Montrose school system. A proudly naturalized citizen of the U.S., she is well-known for her talent among artists in her native Russia, explained her husband, Larry.
Elvira is from a family that is highly gifted with artistic talent. Her mother is a well-known artist who has also taught art and wrote a book on the subject.
“I was invited by Congressman John Salazar to decorate an ornament for the White House tree,” Elvira explained. All members of Congress had the opportunity to have a constituent decorate an ornament representing their district.
“I felt honored to be chosen as the one from this district,” Elvira said. “I was asked to create an ornament that was representative of our state, so I chose as a background the Mesa Verde National Park and the Rocky Mountains with an eagle flying overhead, its wings adorned by the American flag.”
Elvira was notified that the ornament she decorated had been chosen to represent her state. “I was sent an official White House invitation to attend a ceremony honoring artists from across the nation who also had their ornaments selected to adorn the White House Christmas tree,” she explained.
So, last Dec. 2, Elvira traveled to the nation’s capitol during the height of the holiday season with her good friend, Larisa Callihan of Cedaredge who, like Elvira, is also a proud and patriotic naturalized U.S. citizen born in Russia. They were to be White House guests of Laura Bush.
“It was my first visit to the White House and I was very excited and thrilled by the honor,” Elvira said. “The White House is a beautiful building, and I was very impressed by the attractively decorated home of our First Family, and by the wonderful staff who saw to our needs.
“Mrs. Bush gave a gracious welcoming address to all of the visiting artists at the reception. It was a fabulous experience,” she said.
The First Lady’s address included a bit of history of the White House Christmas tree tradition which Elvira related in a narrative she composed on the events:
“The tradition of placing a decorated Christmas tree in the White House began in 1889 during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison. On the first occasion, the Presidents’s’ grandchildren were allowed to lead the President and his family into the Oval Office where the first tree was placed.
“Since that time the White House Christmas tree has been placed in various rooms of the White House. Over the years, the Christmas tree has been a tradition for all subsequent First Families and has reflected the tastes and desires of each particular family.
“First Lady Frances Cleveland was the first to add lights to the tree in 1895. As time went by, different traditions were honored by different First Families.
“In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of using themes to decorate the tree, and that year she chose a decorating theme from ‘The Nutcracker Suite.’ For the 2008 White House Christmas tree, First Lady Laura Bush chose a patriotic theme. To accomplish this she asked members of Congress to select artists from among their constituents to make the decorations for the Christmas tree that would reside in the White House Blue Room.”
Elvira explained that each of the honored artists and their guest had a photo taken in front of the 18-foot-tall Fraser fir. There were 369 individually decorated ornaments on the tree from every state of the Union. “They were all quite beautiful,” Elvira said.
“Following the Christmas season’s celebrations, the ornaments will all become part of the permanent White House collection,” she explained.