December 5, 2008
The most beautifully decorated tree in Racine
But for Emile Mathis, owner of the Mathis Gallery and Frame Shop at 328 South Main St., that decision is easy (artificial, fire retardant, as required by law for retail stores). The hard decision is where to put each of his hand-blown glass ornaments.
He has more than 3,000 ornaments ... a collection that's taken him 50 years to amass.
Now, for the first time, they're all on a tree. Not at home -- "That one will be all family ornaments I remember from my childhood," he says -- but on a 15-ft. tree in his gallery.
"We used to sell ornaments," Mathis said, recalling his former gallery on Center Street. He even met Christopher Radko, the most familiar name in glass ornaments, at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, the year after Radko made his first glass ornaments. "They cost considerably less then than they do now," Mathis said, and were more "traditional, less hokey."
(A quick glance today through eBay finds 3,504 Christopher Radko ornaments for sale -- ranging in price from $399 -- for one! -- down to the more reasonable.)
Mathis bought his big artificial tree five years ago, but never found the time to put it up and decorate it. He fondly remembers back in the '70s, when live trees were still allowed in retail stores, going down to Wes Hansche's house in Mount Pleasant, having coffee and pastry with Wes and his wife, and then picking out a spruce tree for his store. "One of Wes' employees would cut it down and we'd set it up. One year we had a 17-ft. tree, with a spread of about 12-ft. -- it took us three hours to get it through the door!"
Mathis also remembered who decorated that tree, some thirty years ago, an employee named John Nowicki. "He did a spectacular job... and this year I finally got the guts to call him and ask if he'd like to do it again. And he did."
Nowicki spent about 40 hours hanging the ornaments on Mathis' tree ... with some "help" from Mathis. "We had a nice time doing it," Mathis says.
I had to ask: "And how many ornaments dropped and broke during the process?" Mathis laughed ruefully. I never got a number, but he did describe the breaking of "a sorta special ornament, a replica of an Austrian Chapel I bought at a huge ornament shop in Frankenmuth, Michigan, the largest Christmas store in the world (Bronner's Christmas Wonderland). I'll get another one!"
We'd guess that Emile Mathis' tree is the most beautifully decorated in all Racine -- if not all Wisconsin. If anyone would care to nominate another, we'd love to see it.