Any readers of the recent CNN article on the history of the White House Christmas ornament likely got a good look at the 2016 design, depicting a fire truck with a Christmas tree in the back. What one might not know reading the article is that the award-winning design was done by a Montserrat student!
For 40 years the White House Historical Association has released a new Christmas ornament each December. There have been many dazzling designs since the tradition began in 1981—each of which has been dedicated to a particular President, or to a particular moment in the history of the White House. It’s a more recent piece, however, that Montserrat holds a particular fondness for.
In 2015, alumna Kayla Drakehart (née Whelan) was a junior at Montserrat. After designing a proposed ornament in John Colan’s graphic design class, she submitted it to the WHHA’s first national art college design competition. Her design ultimately charmed the judges, who named Kayla the first-ever winning of the competition, and thus the first student to have their design hung on the White House Christmas tree!
Kayla’s winning design was inspired by the fire engines which responded to the 1929 Christmas Eve fire. The four-alarm fire engulfed the West Wing of the White House, including the Oval Office, while then-President Herbert Hoover and his wife hosted a Christmas party in the East Wing.
After catching the eye of the judges, Kayla’s design adorned the Obama’s final Christmas tree in 2016. The ornaments themselves were also made in New England, produced by ChemArt in Lincoln, Rhode Island.
Those who want to add Kayla’s work to their collection of ornaments can still find on the WHHA website.