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

By Celine KeatingStyling by Nancy Keiter
September 30, 2005
Jeff McNamara

A glass globe holds a miniworld of sand, shells, and a tiny pail. Ayellow-slickered sea captain leans into his ship's wheel. A Santain bathing trunks balances on a surfboard. Clearly, Mark Levy'sornament collection mixes the artistic with the wacky. For theirfirst Christmas in Montauk, New York, which combines fishingvillage sensibilities with the sophistication of the neighboringHamptons, Mark and his wife hung surf-casting lures on a smallartificial Christmas tree overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. "Itseemed fun," he says, "and in keeping with the community'sunpretentious spirit."

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

Mark frequently travels for his high-stress job as executivedirector of a health-care union. Searching out ornaments became away to escape windowless conference rooms and explore variouscities. He returned home with tissue-wrapped treasures: designerSharon Laska's colorful stained-glass fish from a Toronto gallerystore; hand-painted Mexican tin sea horses from San Antonio, Texas;and striped wooden lighthouses from Perkins Cove, Maine. Trips tosouvenir shops in Hollywood Beach, Florida, yielded such tackydelights as a classic VW Beetle and a pink flamingo holding acoconut drink. Mark's Santas vary by material-handblown glass,shells, sea stars, resin, papier-mâché-and performbeach-related activities such as kayaking, fishing, andsurfing.

Mark occasionally surfs online. From hefound an irresistible Clothtique Santa with chair and umbrella intow. But he prefers real-world jaunts. Kissing fish withruby-painted lips, from Katherine's Collection, were his latestdiscovery at Funky Fish, a shop in Baltimore's Fells Pointdistrict.

"The Christmas season should be joyful," Mark says. "I relishthe 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 200dangling gems), so has the tree. Mark adapted an idea from New YorkCity designer Allen Kaufman to use a prelit, outdoor, 6-foot wire"twig tree" to highlight the collection. Though it looks snazzy, heunearthed it in a local drugstore for just $25. But the affordableornaments, displayed on an inexpensive, easy-to-light tree, makefor priceless holiday fun.

Mark recommends the followingshops.

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

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

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

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

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

Other favorites include