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O Christmas tree
Lori Grice holds the Christmas ornament she designed. - photo by Special to the Herald
     In the White House, in the Blue Room, on the Presidential Christmas tree, hangs a little bit of Bulloch County.
    To be truthful, the ornament designed by Statesboro’s own Lori Grice represents all of Georgia’s 112th Congressional District, and includes scenes from Savannah and elsewhere, but still, it was made by a Bulloch County native, in her Statesboro studio, and takes a touch of the area all the way to Washington, D.C. and is now part of our country’s history.
    How did a Christmas ornament designed by one of the Boro’s own end up in the White House? It all began with a call from Congressman John Barrow’s office.
    Every year, congressmen and senators have the opportunity to ask artists to design an ornament for the White House to represent their districts. Christian Fulford, with Barrow’s office, called Lori Grice last summer.
    “They told me they had chosen me to make the ornament,” she said. “I said yes! I couldn’t talk about it until the First Lady released the theme for the tree.”
    The theme? The “A Red, White and Blue Christmas”  with ornaments that captured the “spirit of the district.”
    The ornament arrived in a box pre-addressed to the White House, with a set of rules.
    It wasn’t an easy task for Grice to choose which of her images created for clients to use on  the ornament, but her final selection included seven images.
 The images used
    The most significant for her was a portrait of Dr. Michael Guido and his wife Audrey, done for their 60th wedding anniversary. The portrait hangs in the Guido Gardens studio in Metter.
    “Of all the portraits I have created of the Guidos, this is by far my favorite,” Grice said. “There is so much symbolism captured in this portrait. The primary one is faith.”
    She said Guido was moved to  tears that the portrait was included on the ornament. At a time when he was experiencing health issues due to a fall, Augusta minister Sandra Kennedy prayed for him and also prayed over the ornament. “She told him ‘our country needs you and your faith more than ever now,” Grice said.
    Georgia Southern University’s eagle Freedom is also portrayed on the ornament.
    Grice chose this portrait because the Bald Eagle is not only the GSU mascot but “our national symbol,” she said. The portrait was taken during the 2008 GSU/University of Georgia game. “With this image, I capture the spirit of not only our country but our district.”
    In another image, a cherubic toddler stands in a pair of her daddy’s combat boots, wearing his beret and holding a smaller flag against an American flag backdrop.
    The child is Emory Jane Betz,  daughter of Katrina and Travis Betz. The tot’s dad was about to be deployed to Iraq when  the portrait was made. “This portrait has become one of my most recognizable and talked-about portraits,” Grice said. “For the ornament,  it represents the importance of our military ... reminds us of the price of freedom and the sacrifices. ...”
    Trenton, Trevor, Tania and Jeff Cole frolic on the sandy Tybee Island beach at sunset in the next image. All four are clothed in white as Jeff tosses Trevor into the air and Tania holds Trenton close. The image “displays the special bond of family and the unmatched beauty of the beach,” she said.
    Another family portrait used on the ornament is the Stone family — Hannah, Harrison, Emmi, Jasper and Dean. The newest family  member Laci was not born when the portrait was made, family standing together in a cotton field. The image represents agriculture and family and was taken in Metter.
    A Buckhead family that vacations in Savannah (Will, John Gregory, Virginia, Kristin and Clark Dean) are walking hand in  hand approaching Savannah’s Forsyth Park fountain. Spanish moss drips from oaks, and the image  represents the historic value as well as Savannah’s tourism aspect, Grice said.
    Of course, Grice could not resist including one of the many images she has done of her own treasure, daughter Edie Grace.
    “Well, of course I had to select an image of Edie Grace,” she said. The portrait of her daughter shows the child frolicking toward sea oats and the ocean, and represents  “the importance of the beach, the innocence of childhood and the freedom we all experience in life ... whether it is the freedom from cancer or some other disease or the freedom to just be you,” she said.
    Santa sharing a Coca Cola with Olivia, daughter of Melissa and Jason Long, is a classic pose that Grice used in the last image.  “It is a Christmas ornament so I had to get the most famous symbol of Christmas incorporated somewhere,” Grice said. Olivia is her niece, and Grice’s mother works for Coca Cola. Olivia was born 11 weeks early and spent 40 days in ICU with a cerebral hemorrhage.
    “I could write all day about Olivia and how she inspires me,” she said. “Every time I look into her precious little eyes I am reminded of the power of prayer and miracles.” This image represents the “wonderment of Christmas, miracles and the power of modern medicine which we are richly blessed within our district,” she said.
 Reception and the Blue Room Tree
    The Grices were invited to the White House for a reception and were able to see the Blue Room tree, and see Laura Bush, although she only made a brief appearance before the crowd.
    The visit was amazing and overwhelming, Grice said. Artists ranging from age eight to 90 mingled, and “everybody shared my sense of overwhelm and appreciation to have been chosen” to design an ornament for the Bush’s official Christmas tree.
    When it sunk in that her ornament would be included on the one and only official White House tree, Grice was floored. “I’ve had lots of opportunities, but this trumped all of those,” she said. “A girl from public school in Statesboro to the White House. It was such a neat thing.”
    The visit was already an important event, but when Grice and husband DeWayne met Sen. Johnny Isaakson and his wife as they all went through security to enter the White House, DeWayne asked the senator, “Isn’t this old hat to you?”
    When Isaakson replied “No DeWayne, this is very special,” the impact of what they were experiencing was driven home, Lori said.
    The entire ordeal, from the invitation to design the ornament, to seeing it hang on the White House tree, and to know it will be a part of history and will be kept as part of the Bush White House, has been like a fairy  tale, she said.
    Grice will not be allowed to reproduce the ornament for sale, but has a copy of it that hangs on display at Guido Gardens.
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414. 
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