The Article following was written by Earline Marsh for the Vermont
Country Courier in November 1999. She has been a customer and a neighbor
for years and kindly interviewed Gaelic for this issue. It will tell you
a bit more about "us" and why we are so lucky to love what we
do for a living.
'I Believe in Christmas'
Waitsfield's Christmas Shop at All Things Bright and BeautifulStory By Earline Marsh
Photo by Stefan Hard
Stepping into the Christmas Shop at All Things Bright and Beautiful near the covered bridge in Waitsfield Village is like entering a secret door into a magic place where every day is Christmas.
In subdued lighting on a warm early autumn day, a hand-blown glass hot air balloon in red, gold and ivory spins from its hook as if enchanted, as it catches the breeze from a humming fan. Nearby ornaments, all of them shiny hand-blown glass, sway gently in unison-classic Santas and drums and snow-men and angels in one area; in another section, a moose, lion, penguin, lighthouse, Noah's Ark, and so much more. In gold lettering on a dark red background a sign reads: "I BELIEVE IN CHRISTMAS."
Owner Gaelic McTigue, the inspiration behind this alluring collection, says that there are 3,000 European hand-blown glass ornaments in this unique shop. (That's how many hooks she has installed.)
"Hand-blown glass is an art form in itself," she says.
The assortment is stunning, from classic Victorian gems to designs not necessarily related to Christmas, such as a variety of animal figures. Many people who purchase these ornaments give them as gifts or add to their own special collections. Delicate glass wedding sets are popular, Gaelic explains. She maintains a bridal registry for the convenience of the family and friends who are purchasing gifts for the bride-to-be.
Gaelic adds with a smile, "Teachers in town have the best decorated Christmas trees anywhere."
Everything in the shop is hand-blown glass or hand painted wood; you won't find anything plastic-nor will you find anything displayed under fluorescent lighting.
All Things Bright and Beautiful now owns two shops in the shadow of the covered bridge in Waitsfield Village, both historic houses that sit side by side. The larger of the two houses is the popular Teddy Bear Shop, with 12 rooms full of stuffed animals of all sizes and descriptions, with, of course, every imaginable kind of Teddy bear. Talking about the history of the building that houses the largest collection of stuffed animals in the northeast, Gaelic points out that it was once the town clerk's office. The McTigue family purchased the building in 1984 from the estate of Emily Eaton, longtime Waitsfield town clerk who is still fondly remembered by many residents.
All Things Bright and Beautiful is a family business, run by the McTigues since they came to Vermont from Chicago in 1968. Gaelic describes her sister Bonnie as the "brains behind the operation. We are Yin and Yang." Their mother Irene is still involved in the business, working mostly at home.
Looking back to their beginnings in Waitsfield, Gaelic says, "Christmas brought us to Vermont"
Their mail order business, the Treetop Shop started in 1964, specialized in wooden Christmas ornaments, and Gaelic, Bonnie and Irene found that Waitsfield provided the perfect setting for their expanding retail operation. In the early years, the business occupied rented space across the street from the current location.
Gaelic notes the "creaky floors and crooked shelves" which provide a challenge-as well as a distinctive charm-to setting up a shop full of delicate glass items. Dawn Moriarty, a Waitsfield native, has served as the manager of All Things Bright and Beautiful since 1985.
One of the big surprises in the collection of European hand-blown glass is the display of Christmas pickles. Pickles? Yes, more than a dozen life-size pickles hang in a row from their individual hooks. Some are a soft muted green color with a matte finish; some are a vibrant bright green with a shiny surface. Gaelic explains the German tradition behind the "Christmas pickle." The muted green pickle, strategically placed in a generously decorated Christmas tree, is a challenge to discover.
"But if you are the first person to find it you get an extra present," she says.
These appealing works of art, small enough to hold and admire, range in cost from a small pickle at $2 up to more elaborate ornaments at $45, with an average price in the $8 to $10 range. The higher end hand-blown glass is usually from a limited edition, which has a particular appeal to collectors. With all these beautiful, somewhat delicate glass ornaments everywhere, is there much breakage?
Gaelic responds, "There's almost none; people are respectfully. This shop is treated almost like a museum. People walk in and there's a hush and a gasp."
Giving a brief history of the origin of her collection, Gaelic says, "In 1880 Woolworth's brought European hand-blown glass ornaments to America. Everybody went crazy over them.
" All that came to halt with the onset of World War II in Europe. The industry took 30 years to recover, Gaelic explains. Although some glass ornaments are made in the United States, the Christmas Shop carries only European glass, imported from Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Talking about the molds used for making the classic European designs, Gaelic says that porcelain replicas of 1880s molds are used today.
"The process is still labor intensive," she says. "The glass is mouth-blown and hand-painted. It is largely a cottage industry.
" The McTigue family's own personal collection of original glass ornaments dates back to Gaelic's great grandmother.
"Our family's ornaments originally came from the dime store," she says.
She talks about the "care and feeding" of old original glass ornaments.
"If you are lucky enough to have one or more still in good condition, let them live where you live. Don't store old glass ornaments in the attic or basement. The glass expands and contracts, but the paint doesn't." She adds, "Wrap them in acid-free tissue, not newspaper; the printing tends to come off onto the ornament.
" Gaelic's popular handmade wooden ornaments, a line she started back in 1964, hang near her workspace, where she skillfully hand-paints each one. Showing her innate sense of humor, she points out her "Whatintarnation??" collection-all designed and crafted by her. The puns are plentiful. For example, there's a "cowch potato" in a predictable black and white classic Vermont design, a serene "holy cat, " and more. She likes to "keep it light; keep if fun." Bridget, the 15-year old shop cat, is generally found curled up in Gaelic's chair.
"Christmas trees hold a family's memories," Gaelic observes.
They are a link to the past through decorations acquired over the years, including treasures made by children in bygone times.
She adds, " A Christmas tree should not be so perfect that it's not fun. It should always be fun."
Recently the Christmas Tree Shop welcomed an enthusiastic visitor who was connected to the Swiss embassy. Gaelic described how the visitor recaptured happy memories of her long-past childhood. She was delighted to "meet old friends ornaments that she grew up with and had know as a child."
Reflecting on the years during World War II when the hand-blown glass industry was gone, Gaelic says, "We tend to forget how the war touched millions of people in different ways."
Faberge eggs recently entered the line of glass treasures in the shop. Gaelic explains, "The egg is nature's most perfect shape. In Russian, Polish and Ukrainian tradition, the egg symbolizes Christian renewal.
As she greets people who come into the shop to browse or to purchase, Gaelic clearly lives up to her gold-lettered sign: I BELIEVE IN CHRISTMAS.
"Christmas is not only presents," she says. "If we kept the spirit of Christmas alive all the time, it would be a better world."
Earline Marsh is a regular contributor to Country Courier and lives in Moretown.