Based in Toronto, Ontario, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

She's got the tree decorating touch

Every year I’ve admired our building’s Christmas tree, and the resident who decorates it so perfectly. This year, I learned, her name is Lynne Block, and she’s been beautifying our lobby for 15 years now. For 14 of those years, she also helped decorate a more famous tree: the 18th-century Neapolitan extravaganza at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Although a bookkeeper by trade, Lynne makes religious shrines out of sardine tins and has shown them at several galleries. She came by her Met tree-trimming gig through a friend, the granddaughter of Loretta Hines Howard, the benefactor who donated her collection of angels and crèche figures to the museum. Installed annually in the museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall, the tree and its decorations have become a major holiday attraction. Lynne’s friend, knowing Lynne had a “delicate touch,” asked her to help with the decorating. She was so good at it that she returned year after year, eventually taking on the job of keeping inventory of the thousands of components of the tableau and making sure the job was on schedule.

“We had 15 working days to get the tree installed, so I would keep track of where we are on the job. I’m a very organized person, so that was one of the things I did bring to the job,” Lynne says modestly.

“I don’t do it anymore because my knees kind of gave out,” Lynne told me. “The slate floors are very hard on them.” When I commented that perhaps her Met experience is why our building’s tree looks so beautiful every year, Lynne said the experience didn’t hurt, but that the Met tree is of a different order of magnitude. Each angel on the 25-foot-tall tree has to have its own little spotlight. Decorating it involves using cherry pickers, electricians and riggers. Lynne helped decorate the tree and the landscape that spreads across the floor all around the tree. “Our tree,” she added of our lobby version, “is much more of a spontaneous emission.”

Lynne did buy a number of our tree ornaments at the Met as well as at the Metropolitan Opera gift store. The Fabergé egg reproductions, the realistic looking clip-on birds and the snowflake ornaments are from the museum; a set of jewel-toned spheres traced with lacy gold filament are from the Met Opera store. Lynne needs to stockpile them because accidents do happen in an apartment building lobby. “One time a UPS guy came in and leaned this big box against the pillar, and it knocked about five or six things off,” she recounts. “That’s why I watch the sales; we need to have a supply so we can replace stuff.”

The ornaments Lynne loves most, though, are the ones that have a history tied to our building. One resident was in the ornament business, so he donated some for the tree. “When one of the little old ladies in the building died, her family gave us some of her ornaments,” Lynne says. “The history of the building is in the tree.”

Knowing all this makes the tree even more special to me, spontaneous emission or not. Merry Christmas to all!

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