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Volunteers work long hours on Nutcracker Village

HARD AT WORK -- volunteers Tara Orsay, left, and Tess McKenna prepare to cut hair for a new nutcracker. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — After working for months behind the scenes, Tess McKenna admits it was beyond cool to see her handiwork on display at the Steubenville Nutcracker Village.

“I definitely had a good time showing them to my friends and explaining how I did this detail or that detail,” said McKenna, 16, one of the members of the inaugural class of Steubenville’s Nutcracker Guild.

“It was so cool … it was awesome, incredible … to see all the details on the ones I had done myself, and all the details on the ones I did with the other volunteers.”

The Nutcracker Guild is a new innovation, created this year to share the burden of getting 180-plus life-sized, hand-painted nutcrackers ready for the holiday season. Guild members completed Nutcracker 101 — learning how to create life-size nutcrackers through seasonal repair work, guided design, and painting workshops — and then putting what they’d learned to work.

The Guild’s work is sponsored by Eastern Gateway Community College, which provided the tools and training for the volunteers as well as food.

“It was a lot for one person to do before,” Lead Artist Therese Nelson admits. “I probably used to spend 10 hours a day the month before the village opened doing it all myself or with a couple sporadic volunteers. It’s huge for me not to have to do all the work myself, now we’re able to spend all year working and making them look better.”

Nelson figures the group spent somewhere between 400 and 600 hours this year prepping the nutcrackers for the 2019 holiday season. Each of them also designed a new nutcracker, working with the sponsor to get the design just right.

“They were able to bring a vision to life that I probably would not have,” she said. “Each of them took one sponsor’s papers and did a concept drawing. The sponsor had to approve it…(then) they worked to bring it to life.”

McKenna, a student at Catholic Central, said she wasn’t sure what to expect when she signed up.

“But once we got started, we worked every Monday until May or June … probably four or five hours every week…on them,” McKenna said. “It was a great time. And getting to do one, being able to do our own nutcracker, that was super fun.”

Krysten Myers, 15, said she loved the experience.

“It was just a very peaceful time, even nights when I was here by myself,” said Myer, an art lover and student at Brooke High. “When you’re in the workshop, you don’t feel alone.”

Claire Venditti, a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, said she appreciates what the nutcrackers are doing for the community.

“It’s such an easy way to bring life and beauty to Steubenville,” said Venditti, 17. “It’s really been heartwarming to see. Everyone talks about revitalizing Steubenville — this is another way to do it. It requires some skill, but more than anything it just takes time and effort.”

And McKenna said she’s always loved the arts, “so the idea of being able to work on such a cool medium, a life-sized nutcracker, was just super cool.”

“To do something like this in a small town, that’s a great opportunity I didn’t want to pass up,” McKenna added.

She said quite a few of the nutcrackers had a lot of damage, so some days pretty much all they got done was sanding them down.

“It definitely wasn’t all super-fun, but it was worth it to see the final project at the end,” she said. “It was incredible.”

Nelson, too, said watching the volunteers evolve was like looking in a mirror, “they’re all where I was five years ago when I was handed (my first) life-sized nutcracker.”

“It’s inspiring to me to see young people interested enough to participate in something like this,” she adds. “It’s so important for them to take ownership of something.

Guild volunteers include, in addition to McKenna, Myers and Venditti, Brodie Stutzman, Master Carver; Gemma Nelson, 20; Madison McCalister, 21, a student at FUS; Tara Orsay, 16, a student at Catholic Central; Theresa Anne Baker, 24, an FUS graduate; and Victoria Schweitzer, 18, a student at FUS.

Among the “artists on the assist” were Lucy Stoutz, Grace Hyden, Ashley Morris, Claire Tomeny, Justyne Strohmeyer, Gretchen Nelson, Madeline Stutzman, Gabriel Nelson, Max Nelson, Dominic Nelson, Jacob Nelson, Mike Nelson and Sean Lally.

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