Last year, Gardiner made it into the national news spotlight when the 78-foot-tall, ten-ton Norway Spruce in the Asendorf family’s front yard on Route 44/55 was chosen to become the annual Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City. This year, a Norway Spruce from Oneonta was chosen for the honor. But residents of Gardiner will have a permanent reminder of the town’s place in holiday history in a wooden plaque mounted at Town Hall, created from the wood of the Asendorf tree by retired art teacher and Gardiner resident, Frank Benevento. Approximately 120 small wooden Christmas tree ornaments were also created from the remains of the great tree by Jane and George Czinkota’s Gardiner-based fabrication workspace, Czinkota Studios.
The wooden plaque was unveiled at Town Hall on Friday, December 16 in a small ceremony conducted by town Supervisor Marybeth Majestic, who read a poem to the assembled group that she’d written for the occasion. The plaque’s creator, Frank Benevento, has lived in Gardiner for six years since retiring from teaching art in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. He is currently a director of the Roost Studios & Art Gallery in New Paltz, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit community art space opened earlier this year.
Made from a plank cut from the 2015 Rockefeller Center tree, the plaque depicts a Christmas tree carved in relief, accented by wood-burned details representing tree branches and the figure of Prometheus, placed atop the tree in place of a star. The 18-foot-tall gilded bronze figure of Prometheus at Rockefeller Center is located on the plaza there, at the base of the annual Christmas tree, overlooking the skaters on the ice rink below since 1934.
The first Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was put up by construction workers in 1931 in the midst of the Great Depression. They decorated a 20-foot-tall Balsam Fir with homemade garlands made by their families. Photographs from the time show the men lining up by the tree to receive their paychecks on the muddy site that would become Rockefeller Center. Two years later, the tradition of an annual Christmas tree on the same spot as the workers’ tree was adopted.
Most of the wood from the Gardiner-grown Norway Spruce was donated to Habitat for Humanity after the holidays. Lumber from Rockefeller Center Christmas trees has been used to construct Habitat homes across the country, with 2016 marking the tenth year that the organization will be the beneficiary of milled wood from the tree. Nancy Puchalski and Al Asendorf, in whose yard the 2015 tree grew, said they were just in Newburgh last week to attend the unveiling of two homes there built for families in need with wood from their tree. Having grown up in Newburgh herself, Puchalski said, it was a very meaningful thing to participate in.
The Christmas tree ornaments made by Czinkota Studios were sold for $10 each, with proceeds divided 50/50 between the Friends of the Gardiner Library and the Gardiner Fire Department. The trees have sold out at this point, but more will be created after the holidays. More information is available by e-mailing Supervisor Majestic at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Gardiner Town Hall at 255-9675, ext. 101.