Hang It Up

Jeff McNamara
Kitschy nautical ornaments turn a holiday tree from formal to funky.

Wanting to extend the metaphor, Mark trolled the hamlet's souvenir shops on Main Street and the dock area, drawn first to the wooden-boat ornaments in a local sundries store. "I decided the collection's theme should be a nautical representation of Montauk's fishing history-draggers, sailing ships, anchors, lobster pots, seagulls on pilings-and humorously kitschy," he says. But the concept soon broadened to include fanciful coastal selections: a stylish flapper under a beach umbrella, Neptune and mermaids, a sea-urchin snowman, red crabs of cloisonné and straw.

Mark frequently travels for his high-stress job as executive director of a health-care union. Searching out ornaments became a way to escape windowless conference rooms and explore various cities. He returned home with tissue-wrapped treasures: designer Sharon Laska's colorful stained-glass fish from a Toronto gallery store; hand-painted Mexican tin sea horses from San Antonio, Texas; and striped wooden lighthouses from Perkins Cove, Maine. Trips to souvenir shops in Hollywood Beach, Florida, yielded such tacky delights as a classic VW Beetle and a pink flamingo holding a coconut drink. Mark's Santas vary by material-handblown glass, shells, sea stars, resin, papier-mâché-and perform beach-related activities such as kayaking, fishing, and surfing.

Mark occasionally surfs online. From old-world-christmas.com he found an irresistible Clothtique Santa with chair and umbrella in tow. But he prefers real-world jaunts. Kissing fish with ruby-painted lips, from Katherine's Collection, were his latest discovery at Funky Fish, a shop in Baltimore's Fells Point district.

"The Christmas season should be joyful," Mark says. "I relish the quest for unique ornaments, then enjoy them anew on the tree. It's such a pleasure." And the pleasure comes cheap, at prices from $1.50 to $15. As the collection has grown (to more than 200 dangling gems), so has the tree. Mark adapted an idea from New York City designer Allen Kaufman to use a prelit, outdoor, 6-foot wire "twig tree" to highlight the collection. Though it looks snazzy, he unearthed it in a local drugstore for just $25. But the affordable ornaments, displayed on an inexpensive, easy-to-light tree, make for priceless holiday fun.

Mark recommends the following shops.

J. Martell Stationery and Gifts,
Montauk, New York
wooden boats, lighthouses, and lobster- and gull-themed ornaments

Fish City,
Montauk, New York
mermaids and other whimsical styles

Headley Studio,
Sag Harbor, New York
Katherine's Collection (kissing fish) and high-style whimsy

Souvenir shops in Perkins Cove, Maine
Santa- and Maine-theme ornaments

Lighthouse Depot,
Wells, Maine
lighthouse ornaments
800/758-1444 or lighthousedepot.com

Hollywood Beach, Florida
shell constructions, tropicals

Hollywood Beach, Florida
glass animals and sea life

The Jeweled Castle,
Hollywood, Florida
Katherine's Collection and other whimsy

Proud Canadian Design LTD,
Toronto, Ontario
fused, stained-glass fish by Studio Glass by Sharon Laska Ltd
416/603-7413 or prouddesign.com

Casa Manos Allegres (House of Happy Hands),
San Antonio, Texas
vivid, hand-punched, hand-painted tin ornaments from Mexico

Preservation Society of Newport County,
Newport, Rhode Island
glass and cloisonné ornaments
401/847-1000 or stores.newportmansions.org

Old World Christmas,
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
European-blown glass, beaded, and Clothtique ornaments
877/684-7733 or old-world-christmas.com

Other favorites include islandchristmasshop.com and tias.com/stores/tadf.

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