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Autism Speaks Christmas Tree Debuts at Festival of Trees

This guest blog post is by Trudy Dujardin, owner of Dujardin Design Associates (DDA). Trudy is the creative mind behind the Autism Speaks Christmas tree on display at the Festival of Trees in Nantucket, Mass. 

It's almost a year ago that Suzanne Wright asked me to design something special for Autism Speaks for their tree at the Whaling Museum - the famous Festival of Trees held every year during the month of December by the Nantucket Historical Association.  It warmed my heart to be included in this collaboration for one of my favorite causes.  As we say, ask a designer to create for a cause they believe in ~ and the pencils start flying! 

So, it began with a wish, a dream, a vision of how this special tree could look using the well-known puzzle piece logo with it's radiant blue.  I worked with Price Connors, our Senior Designer at DDA to create the initial sketches.  My vision was a hollowed out puzzle piece - two intersecting pieces with a lovely suspended tree twirling from the center.  Little did I know what challenges we would be facing!  It seemed so simple on paper!

We gathered forces with Conn. artist Adam Raiti to do the rendering for us.  The proportions, scale, and eventual size were no small feat but we finally had success.  Now how to fabricate?  After many emails, phone calls, and visits to his studio, Willy LeMay, furniture designer and maker par excellence on island, agreed to take on the project.

Getting life sized templates made was the next feat and Willy, Adam, and the local UPS store worked tirelessly on this.  Frank Fasanella, my husband, and I spent time at the studio solving the issues of the "pieces."  Some parts had to be thickened to be substantial enough for the weight and height - over 7 feet -  so we couldn't just go by the templates.  It was a work in progress, and we kept sending Suzanne and Connie updated shots throughout.

My vision included that the final product had to be sophisticated and sleek, so special materials had to be sourced off island because of the size needed.  Willy took care of that for us but it was a long haul.  It's an MDF board with all smooth edges so the final spraying of the pieces would be smooth as glass.

Willy had this done professionally by an auto body shop on island.  Plywood would have been much too rough for the finish I was imagining.I was also trying to create a permanent piece for Autism Speaks - something that could be reused anywhere for other holiday displays.

Another challenge was finding the perfect artificial "pencil" tree that would fit within the void but not touch the sides of the pieces.  Willy found that on line, but unfortnately I had to let go of the "spinning" suspended tree.  It just wouldn't stay centered.  So be it.

Willy hand carved four large wooden stars to be suspended from the arms of the puzzle pieces, and we had Mary Emery (on island artist and a teacher at the 1800 house) silver leaf the stars by hand with one smaller gold leafed star for the top of the tree itself. 

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.