The Aluminum Tree and Aesthetically Challenged Seasonal Ornament Museum and Research Center (ATOM) first planted its shiny seasonal shrine in Transylvania County in 1998, as part of a kitschy display at the Brevard American Legion Hall. Since then, the annual attraction has garnered international media coverage and unearthed thousands of visitors to honor the time-tested testament to a holiday décor, which lives on today via eBay and other trendy vintage outlets.
The 2015 exhibit at the Transylvania County Heritage Museum will feature several new additions, guest decorated by the mother-daughter design team of Mary Allen and Mary Chism — including their trees inspired by mid-century TV classics The Andy Griffith Show and Hee-Haw, as well as metal-ornamental homages to musician Buddy Holly and the iconic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
Local architect /ATOM retired curator Stephen Jackson said he hopes the display will have the best turnout yet.
“This year’s exhibit will feature new trees, new themes, and the creativity of new decorators,” Jackson confirms. “I think there will be about 25 trees on display, including rare gold, blue, and green vintage aluminum trees.”
Jackson’s celebration of aluminum Christmas trees began in 1991, when a friend gave him one of the often-maligned metal trees as a joke. (Even by 1965, less than a decade after they were introduced, the trees had grown into mocked symbols of crass commercialism, as reflected in the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special.)
That sense of holiday humor expanded when others continued donating their aluminum trees to Jackson, and he became the unintentional owner of a growing permanent collection. A few years later, he put his trees on public display with thematic exhibits to follow.
“I always enjoyed the Tammy Faye Bakker tree,” says Jackson (a campy homage to the disgraced ’80s televangelist). The punny “toile-tree” was also a favorite. “It had ornaments such as the copper flotation balls from the tank of toilet and garland made of shower curtain rings. The Elvis tree and the Marilyn Monroe tree are always crowd favorites, because of their connection to the aluminum-tree era.”
Jackson is no longer solely in charge of ATOM, as he has turned that responsibility to the historians at the Transylvania County Heritage Museum, but he says the collection is in good gloved hands.
“TCHM is perfect for this display. It’s a real museum with display cases and good lighting,” he explains. “The first public year at the Legion Hall, a couple hundred people came to see it, but now with trees set up in various rooms, a person gets to experience the trees and decorations in a more intimate venue, with time to linger wherever is desired.”
ATOM’s founder acknowledges that aluminum Christmas trees may not tempt everyone’s tastes, but he insists they are something that simply must be seen by all generations.
“This is a different holiday experience, and I like when people appreciate the ‘aesthetically challenged’ nature of the exhibit,” he says. “I also like when little kids see these trees for the first time and are enamored with them. What keeps me going is someone else is in charge, and I just get to enjoy the display.”
The Aluminum Tree and Aesthetically Challenged Seasonal Ornament and Research Center (aka ATOM) is on display through December 19 at the Transylvania Heritage Museum,189 West Main St., Brevard, Wednesday through Saturday, 10am-5pm. 828-884-2347. www.transylvaniaheritage.org.