Mathis Gallery Tree on Display

November 29, 2013 - January 5, 2014

The late gallerist and arts supporter, Emile H. Mathis II spent years collecting ornaments for an 11-foot artificial tree that he decorated each year for a display in his gallery on Main Street. This tree became a part of the annual Christmas celebrations that took place in Racine’s downtown each year. In addition to avidly collecting ornaments (at one point, he had over 3,000), Mathis sold them in his gallery. In addition to establishing The Emile H. Mathis II Fund for Children’s Education when he died in 2012, Mathis gave the museum his treasured tree and a cache of handcrafted blown glass ornaments. The labor of creating the glass ornaments, as well as the process of design and aesthetic choices involved in their construction and decoration, parallels RAM’s emphasis on craft practices.

The product of centuries-old traditions in parts of Germany, handcrafted blown glass ornaments were shared with the larger world in the late 1800s. While there appear to be several importers over time, it is noteworthy that in the late 1880s, F. W. Woolworth began importing glass ornaments to his dime stores in the United States. Such connections to mass consumption offered an increase in the popularity of the decorations. 

While glass ornaments can take many forms, a reflective/silvered version is often associated with modern Western European and American Christmas traditions. While early examples were blown in a free-form manner, molds soon became a popular means of ensuring a desired design and allowed for mass production. Hand painting was frequently employed. Subject matter both continued historical themes-such as fruits and vegetables, birds, round balls, and Santa Claus-and changed to reflect popular culture-television shows, celebrities, sports teams, and any number of animals.


The late Emile H. Mathis II and his Christmas tree
Photography by Jason Madson
Exhibitions at RAM are made possible in part by: Presenting Sponsors- Karen Johnson Boyd and William B. Boyd; SC Johnson; Windgate Charitable Foundation.