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In the News - Friday, DECEMBER 7, 2007

Local artist lends talents

to White House Christmas tree

   Every year it seems that Christmas — or at least the shopping, the hustle, and all the decorations — comes even earlier than the year before. By the end of “Black Friday,” the infamous extended shopping day after Thanksgiving, the nation’s retailers already know if they can anticipate a joyous holiday season.
   For Jana Botkin, a Three Rivers artist who specializes in nearby Sequoia National Park landmarks and more, her 2007 Christmas began with a phone call way back in August. That’s because on that summer day she was asked by park officials at Ash Mountain to create a Sequoia National Park ornament for Laura Bush’s White House Christmas tree.
   Each year, the First Lady selects a theme for the tree that is placed in the Blue Room and the centerpiece of the White House decorations. For Christmas 2007, Laura Bush put out a call to all 391 units in the National Park System. An ornament — which was, in effect, a blank canvas — was sent to each park with instructions that they choose an artist to decorate the ornament and return it.
   Since the ornaments’ unveiling at a gala White House reception for the artists Wednesday, Nov. 28, hundreds of visitors each day are enjoying this season’s theme: “Holiday in the National Parks.” In addition to the more than 350 national park ornaments, holiday garlands in each room are intertwined with natural objects such as pine cones, aspen leaves, and seashells. Also in keeping with the national parks theme, a replica of the White House — also a National Park Service unit — was created from gingerbread where on the front lawn are the Bush family’s dogs in miniature alongside raccoons, moose, elk, and other wildlife.
   The official White House tree, an 18-foot Fraser fir from Laurel Springs, N.C., is the highlight of the Blue Room. Each ornament that adorns the tree reflects the diversity of the nation’s landscapes and its unique wonders from sea to shining sea.
   Jana, who attended the White House ceremony with her husband, Michael, said making the ornament presented a unique artistic challenge. To prepare for the unusual assignment, Jana practiced on several sphere-shaped objects so she could conceptualize Sequoia’s official ornament.
   The guidelines for the project stipulated that the artist depict the most recognizable feature representing their park. Any medium could be used as long as it did not alter the shape or size of the gold ball on which the image was to be portrayed.
   The deadline for returning the finished ornament was October 1, a potential problem for some artists, but not for Jana. She explained that lots of her work is commissioned and she is used to delivering the finished product on time.

  “What was challenging for me was coming up with a spherical-shaped design that was about five to six inches in diameter,” Jana said. “To paint the image that contained the trunks of giant sequoias in a snow-covered forest, cones, and tree branches, I had to visualize panels that make up what is visible from any given perspective.”
   Being an accomplished artist in pencil, Jana embarked on a career change in 2006 when she began oil-painting. There was a learning curve, she said, but with every work she is feeling greater confidence and garnering more recognition.
   The guidelines for the ornament also requested that each ornament contain the park’s name.

  “I’m still a little challenged by the lettering part of doing this so my ‘Sequoia’ is subtle but visible in the snow between a giant sequoia and a set of cones,” Jana said. “They [The White House] must have really liked it because it’s one of the few that’s right at eye level and is very prominent on the front of the tree.”
   In fact, the letter signed by Laura Bush that Jana received confirming receipt of the ornament and inviting her and a guest to the official reception, stated that … “your talent is greatly admired.”
   The First Lady, and all who see the White House tree, know what Kaweah Country has known for quite some time – Jana Botkin’s talent is a Tulare County treasure and her work truly epitomizes the grandeur of one of the nation’s great parks – Sequoia National Park.
   An ornament for Kings Canyon National Park was designed by Mathew Rangel of Dinuba. He is currently a student of Fine Arts who is earning his master’s degree from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.
   After the holiday, the ornaments, now property of the White House, will be preserved for future use. The National Park Service’s Public Affairs Office has placed an image of each ornament on its website:


Sierra icons inducted

to new state Hall of Fame

   For two centuries, people around the world have dreamed of California. Many of those who dared to live their dreams have pioneered a California that today, in the words of its celebrity governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is truly the Golden State and the best place on the planet.
   On Wednesday evening, Dec. 5, in Sacramento, the stars came out to celebrate California, led by Governor Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver, and walk the red carpet at the California Museum’s Hall of Fame.
   The California Hall of Fame was established in 2006 to honor legendary people who embody California’s innovative spirit and have made their mark on history. Realizing the importance of the Sierra Nevada range as one of the state’s great landscapes, John Muir, “Father of the Sierra,” was among the inductees during the Hall of Fame’s inaugural year. This year, Ansel Adams, famed Sierra photographer, has been posthumously honored.
   On this star-studded night, 13 famous Californians — Ansel Adams, wilderness photographer and preservationist; Milton Berle, “Mr. Television”; Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple; Willie Mays, greatest all-around baseball player in history; Robert Mondavi, global symbol of California wine; Rita Moreno, Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony winner; Jackie Robinson, civil rights pioneer that broke baseball’s skin-color barrier; Jonas Salk, M.D., developer of the first successful polio vaccine; John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize winner for literature; Elizabeth Taylor, renowned actress and AIDS humanitarian; Earl Warren, influential Supreme Court Chief Justice and only three-term California governor; John Wayne, Western hero and American movie star icon; and Tiger Woods, the world’s most prolific golf champion — were officially inducted in a formal state ceremony.
   Each of the inductees, or a family member if the award was posthumous, received a prestigious Spirit of California medal designed by Robert Graham, sculptor and husband of actress Anjelica Huston, part-time resident of Three Rivers.

  “What I find so remarkable about the California Hall of Fame at the California Museum is that it’s a place where you can truly celebrate extraordinary individuals who come from all walks of life and yet they have one thing in common — they have all made an incredible mark on the history of our state,” said First Lady Maria Shriver.
   Located one block from the Capitol Mall in Sacramento, the California Museum opened in 1998 initially to showcase the materials of the nearby State Archives. During the last decade, the vision and mission have evolved to make the Museum a destination place with a goal of educating and inspiring people about the richness that is California history.
   In 2005, First Lady Maria Shriver assumed the role as Honorary Chairperson and suddenly the Museum was attracting world-class exhibits. Sponsored principally by corporate partners like Chevron and Wachovia, the ever-changing exhibits highlight history, the contributions of California women, and the arts.
   But it is the Hall of Fame exhibits, which will be changed annually in December with each new set of inductees, that has become the enduring legacy of what it truly means to be a Californian.

  “Those of us that call California home are extremely proud to have a place in our community to honor these men and women and their outstanding achievements,” wrote Jens C. Egerland, a managing director at Accenture, one of the Museum’s corporate contributors. “The California Museum inspires men, women, and children to dream the California dream and make their mark on history.”
   It’s the tireless work of First Lady Maria Shriver that attracts the donors and really brings out the stars. The evening’s gala induction ceremony served as the kickoff event and the opening of the newest exhibit highlighting the Hall of Fame’s second year of inductees.
   Criteria for selection requires that inductees have transcended the boundaries of their own field to make lasting contributions to the state, nation, and the world and that their extraordinary vision motivates and inspires people to further their own dreams. A selection committee is composed of representatives from the Museum, the California Arts Council, and the Governor’s and First Lady’s staffs.
   The committee consults with noted California historian and State Librarian Emeritus Kevin Starr; California State archivist Nancy Lenoil; and current California State Librarian Susan Hildreth on the identification of the inductees and then presents recommendations to the governor for final approval.
   The Hall of Fame exhibit features a main lobby with a large steel structure displaying translucent back-lit panels dedicated to the legacies of inductees. Inside the museum there are displays of each inductee’s unique contributions, with many items loaned personally by the inductees that have never been exhibited before.
In addition to thousands of Sacramento and California visitors, more than 50,000 students visit the Museum and its Hall of Fame annually.

  “The California Hall of Fame exhibit illustrates the sweeping achievements of these important Californians through a unique collection of artifacts, photographs, and memorabilia that brings these legendary Californians to life,” said Claudia French, executive director of the California Museum.
   The California Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $7.50 for adults; $6 for students with ID and seniors; $5, ages 6-13. For group rates, call (916) 654-1729.

Chamber of Commerce

to honor heroes in 2008

   The Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce and member businesses in Three Rivers, Lemon Cove, and Visalia will honor the nation’s heroes during special appreciation months, January to March 2008. Firefighters, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Law Enforcement, Peace Officers, Veterans, Military Personnel and their families are invited to explore Kaweah Country and the neighboring Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks during the Chamber’s second year of “Hero Appreciation Months.”
   The Chamber invites active Firefighters/EMS in January, active Law Enforcement/Peace Officers in February, and Veterans/active Military in March to enjoy 20-percent off most purchases made from participating merchants and service providers, including a 20-percent discount off each night's stay at participating hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and RV parks.

  “The Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce organized these Hero Appreciation Months as a way to recognize the everyday heroes who put their lives on the line to keep our country and communities safe,” said Leah Catherine Launey, Chamber director and event organizer. “This is really a way for the Chamber and its member businesses to give back to those who give their all to keep us safe.”
   Heroes and their families interested in taking advantage of their particular Appreciation Month must check in and register for their discount card at Anne Lang’s Emporium, Sequoia Gifts & Souvenirs, or the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce in Three Rivers; or participating lodges in Three Rivers, Lemon Cove, and Visalia between the first and last days of their particular appreciation month.
   This second annual promotion is part of the Chamber’s goal to develop economic programs to strengthen and expand local business. For more information, contact the Chamber of Commerce at (877) 530-3300 or visit

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