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
631/668-1248

Fish City,
Montauk, New York
mermaids and other whimsical styles
631/668-4735

Headley Studio,
Sag Harbor, New York
Katherine's Collection (kissing fish) and high-style whimsy
631/725-1194

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

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

Wings,
Hollywood Beach, Florida
shell constructions, tropicals
954/329-4009

Kariba,
Hollywood Beach, Florida
glass animals and sea life
954/927-3666

The Jeweled Castle,
Hollywood, Florida
Katherine's Collection and other whimsy
954/920-2424

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
210/224-5107

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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