Morven Museum & Garden celebrates annual Festival of Trees

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Adorned with white lights and different types of ornaments, a large green piece of art affixed itself in almost every room of the Morven Museum & Garden in Princeton.

Spanning across two floors and six galleries, eight 8-foot-tall faux Christmas trees fill the building as part of the museum’s annual Festival of Trees, which is running through Jan. 5.

“The Festival of Trees has been something that Morven has done for about 14 years,” Morven’s Curator of Education and Public Programs, Debra Lampert-Rudman, said. “It started out as something to get the community involved when it comes to the museum. We only [opened] in 2004. So, pretty much, since we started, we have done the Festival of Trees.”

Each year, Morven officials invite local garden clubs and organizations to come and decorate an individual Christmas tree for the museum. Now, in its 14th year, the festival has become one of the museum’s biggest events of the year, Rudman said.

In recent years, the festival became juried and each organization must present a sketch of their idea for a Christmas tree before being chosen by Morven officials to be on display. Because the festival became bigger than originally anticipated, the selection process became juried as a way to include everyone, but only display what Morven deems the best, Rudman said.

In the museum’s Garden Room, guests can anonymously vote for which Christmas tree was their favorite. Though the group who is chosen as the community’s favorite wins nothing but bragging rights, the top three trees are photographed and put on Morven’s website for the year until the next festival.

“This is a huge deal – it gives you bragging rights,” Rudman said. “The garden clubs and the organizations who participate get really excited about this each year.”

The entrants who were selected to decorate a tree this year include Allies, Inc. Day Programs, Green Haven Garden Center, Stony Brook Garden Club, West Trenton Garden Club, Contemporary Garden Club, Keris Tree Farm & Christmas Shop, Mount Laurel Garden Club, and The Garden Club of Princeton.

Taking home the first, second and third place prizes in last year’s competition were the West Trenton Garden Club, Keris Tree Farm & Christmas Shop and The Garden Club of Princeton. All three of which are currently featured on Morven’s website.

But there are a few decorating restrictions that each group must follow and each year the list grows longer with new ideas, Rudman said.

“There are a lot of restrictions because we are a museum,” she said. “A big thing this year was the glitter issue. We can’t have trees with wild glitter going anywhere, so we had to keep that under control.”

For the first time, Morven decorated a tree of its own. Standing tall in front of window-lined walls that overlook the garden, the Morven tree is decorated with something other than ornaments.

“We have for the first time, a wish tree,” Rudman said. “You can pick something off of [the tree]. Since we are a nonprofit, we need the donations and the support of the community.”

From flowers that the museum may want to plant, paint for the walls of the museum, to fixing a pothole in the parking lot, guests will have the option to pick a task off of a branch and help give back to Morven.

Morven’s second floor exhibit, which changes every six months, always relates to the art and culture of New Jersey. Titled “Dreaming of Utopia: Roosevelt, New Jersey,” the exhibit focuses on the co-op mission that helped Jewish immigrants make better lives for themselves.

The West Trenton Garden Club designed its tree this year to interpret the transformation of “the tenement life of New York to the open space of New Jersey.” The club’s tree sits on the second-floor landing in front of the exhibit.

Rudman, who said she is currently enjoying her third Festival of Trees, described how each of the trees are set up and positioned throughout the museum.

Though upon first glance the trees may seem real, each needle-covered object is nothing more than plastic on pipe.

“Because we are a museum and [guests] are walking through the galleries, we can’t use live trees,” she said. “We cannot have any live material because there can be bugs and all kinds of things that can destroy things in the museum.”

Leaving the trees in storage when it’s not the holiday season, the collective Morven staff carries the variety of trees from storage and sets them up in different galleries around the museum.

“It’s a process to decide which room is going to get which tree. If there is a lot in a gallery, you’re not going to put two trees in the room too, but maybe one narrow one. They are really well positioned in each room and they give [the museum] a nice flow,” Rudman said.

But once each tree is positioned throughout all of Morven, patrons can view them while walking through other exhibits.

“We have a lot of events throughout the month of December and guests can see each tree while the walk through the museum,” Luis Estrada of visitor services said.

Rudman, who also manages the tour groups that come through Morven, said that leading groups through the museum is a benefit that comes with her job.

Hosting classes from area schools, art groups and senior homes, Rudman said a lot of local factions all come out to see the Festival of Trees.

David Steinnagel, a South Brunswick native, was visiting Morven while on a tour with the Acorn Glen Assisted Living facility.

“This is my first time at Morven, and I would definitely come back to see [the trees]. I am really enjoying myself, it’s a pleasant time here,” Steinnagel said.

Rudman said the Festival of Trees is a great way for Morven to reach out to the community, educate individuals while walking the festival, to give patrons new knowledge “and just to be fun. It’s great.”

The Festival of Trees will be on display at Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton St., Princeton, through Jan. 5. For more information, call 609-924-8144 or visit www.morven.org.