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Sweet sculptures: Local artists create oversize ornaments for Macy’s holiday candy windows

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SALT LAKE CITY — Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the “Peanuts” gang are getting lots of attention this season, but perhaps none so sweet as at Macy’s in the City Creek Center.

Several local artists are hard at work preparing supersize candy ornaments for the Macy’s holiday candy windows unveiling Thursday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m., in a continuation of a tradition that began in Salt Lake City at the ZCMI Center in the 1970s.

The display was brought back by popular demand after the opening of the City Creek Center in 2012, said Chad Young, visual manager at City Creek Macy’s.

“When we were reopening the store, we had a lot of local people just mention that that was their favorite tradition and they really wanted to see it come back, so we felt like that would be a big win for Salt Lake to have that tradition back in place,” Young said.

It’s a tradition he enjoyed as he was growing up, he added.

“I remember coming down here as a kid and experiencing the ZCMI candy windows, and I just always thought it was so cool and amazing,” Young said. “That really is the moment that makes it worth it to me, when we do our big unveiling. … There’s lots of kids, and they’re very excited, and there’s just the oohs and ahhs. It makes it all worthwhile.”

For the fourth year of the new candy windows, six local artists and teams have been creating their designs around the theme of cartoonist Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” in honor of the comic strip’s 65th anniversary.

“We decided early on that we wanted to partner with local artists to get the community really involved in the project,” Young said.

To find artists to participate each year, Macy’s holds an open call for artists in which anyone can submit a proposal. Young estimated that between 30 and 40 people began the application process this year.

“I sit down with our national director for windows, and we pick the (designs) that will go best together, that we think the plans look feasible, and we interview about 10 or 12 artists and then kind of whittle that down from there,” he said.

The artists come from a range of backgrounds and experience, but creating a giant candy ornament is a project unlike anything they’ve done before — unless they’re returning artists, such as Brian Johnson or SLCC visual merchandising instructor Matt Monson, who are creating ornaments for the second and fourth time, respectively.

“I mean, really, who’s done something like this?” Young said. “Most people don’t sculpt in candy. But they all have different levels of experience with sculpting and stuff, and then there’s a lot of people that I wouldn’t say have had a lot of experience … but they’ve turned out really great work.”

Each ornament is built with a 42-inch-diameter plastic foam ball as its base and is decorated with candy, paint and other materials.

“It takes between 80 and 120 pounds of candy just to cover the ball,” Young said. “And then whatever they build out is just more candy.” He estimated each completed ornament weighs between 100 and 150 pounds.

The blank ornaments were delivered to the artists at the end of September, Young said. Macy’s buys the candy, plastic foam sphere and other supplies for crafting the ornament, and then “we give a small stipend just for anything else that they want to add or to build out,” he said.

Getting the ornaments into the display windows often poses a challenge.

“This one was too big for the door,” Young said of Johnson’s Schroeder-themed ornament, which he estimated weighs 100 pounds. “We had to turn it on its side to get it through the door. It took four or five of us.”

At the end of the season, the ornaments are dismantled and discarded, but they’ve had a good run as they’ve been enjoyed by thousands of visitors, Young said.

“It’s rewarding to see people enjoying it all season long, too, every time I walk by the window,” he said. “We have to clean (the windows) every morning because they get fingerprints all over them, and every time I walk by … there’s people in front of them. People don’t look at my windows year-round like that, but this time of year, they’re really excited to see it.”

Some of the participating artists have fond memories of seeing the windows in years past.

“I grew up just with the energy of (the candy windows),” said Zach Albrecht, an interior design student at the Art Institute of Salt Lake City. “Even as a little kid, I just remember seeing the windows, so it’s more of a nostalgia factor there.”

“Peanuts” has also played a role in his life, he said.

“My dog growing up was named Charlie Brown,” Albrecht said. “And I insisted on that. My mom said, ‘How about you name it Sally or Lucy or a girl name?’ And I just was stuck on Charlie Brown.”

His ornament, titled “Good Grief,” features the scene from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in which Charlie Brown and Linus find “the sad Christmas tree that’s drooping over,” he said. Sitting atop the ornament is Snoopy as the World War I “Flying Ace.”

Albrecht said he has faced “so many” challenges in constructing the ornament, for which he ordered 160 pounds of candy.

“Finding better solutions just through the failures has been kind of interesting in this,” he said. “I worked with sculpting but never Styrofoam before, so it’s an interesting medium to kind of play with and try to mold. … There’s been some interesting things even just with playing with the candy. I’m going to have to warm up some licorice first to make it mold.”

Albrecht’s mom, Marcy Albrecht, is helping him construct his ornament.

“We would come down, maybe not every year, but we would try to come down and wiggle our way through to look at (the windows),” Marcy Albrecht said. “It’s interesting to see this side of the creations. It’s more time and more energy than what I thought. I mean, I always thought they were wonderful, but wow — they’re really cool.”

Another ornament in the works is “Good Little Tree,” by mother-daughter artist team Jo and Kelly Hanks.

“It’s been a lot of fun working together, mom and daughter, helping each other design it,” Kelly Hanks said. “This is my first time, and my mom’s first time, and we’re really excited to be working on this.”

The concept was Jo Hanks’ idea, Kelly Hanks said.

“It was very early on in the design stage when we were going over just a few different ideas we would do,” she said. “She had the idea of just the main little tree in (‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’), the little tree with the ornament that bends it over, and it’s just kind of pathetic looking. She thought, ‘Well, maybe this whole ball could be the ornament that’s bending it over, and the tree could be even comically smaller so that it can fit in with the design.’”

Hanks said they ordered 100 pounds of jelly beans to decorate the red ornament, plus Twizzlers and other materials to create and decorate the tree. She and her mom had already spent at least 50 hours on their ornament with a few more days to go before it would be complete, she said, but they’re happy to be participating.

“We’ve always lived around here, and we love all of the lights around here in City Creek and how it just makes everything look festive for Christmas,” Hanks said. “It’s been really a lot of fun, and it’s been pretty exciting to do something this cool for Christmas, for the holidays — just to be a part of making it all festive.”

There’s also practical experience to be gained, said Monson, who is leading a team of 16 visual merchandising students from SLCC in constructing an ornament.

“As a teacher, one of my biggest goals is to try to translate the classroom experience into a real-life, hands-on experience, and this particular project involves about 30 hands on, so I think we’re doing well there,” he said. “It’s a lot of glue and candy and chaos, and it’s a trial-by-fire sort of learning experience.”

The SLCC team’s ornament is titled ”A Charlie Brown Sweaterscape” and uses about 110 pounds of candy, Monson said.

“We really wanted to tie the theme of Charlie Brown together with something that resonated with the students and community, so we took those exact lines of his sweater, and to a lot of Salt Lakers, you see that and it is also iconic of our Wasatch Mountains,” he said. “So we played with both those themes, incorporating the look of his sweater in a Salt Lake City landscape that ties in the ‘Peanuts’ characters, and (it) just kind of gives it a little more personal touch.”

Monson said the holiday candy windows are a strong Salt Lake tradition that provides a unique opportunity for his students.

“Especially in terms of visual merchandising, you’re rarely ever going to create a window display that you know thousands upon thousands of people will come to see and appreciate,” Monson said. “We consider this one of the biggest events of its type in the region and part of a tradition we’re really proud to be a part of.”

The project also has a more personal aspect for Monson as his 9-year-old daughter, Kaya, has worked on the ornaments with him and his students.

“Each year, she gets a little bit more involved, and it’s kind of fun for her,” he said. “It’s become a tradition within our own family as well.”

Other artists creating ornaments for this year’s windows include candy blogger Emily Apeland, whose ornament, “The Doctor Is In,” features Lucy and her psychiatric help booth; and Matthew Marcusatio, who with two team members is creating an ornament featuring the tree farm scene from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

The Macy’s holiday candy windows festivities are scheduled to begin Thursday, Nov. 19, at 5 p.m. with hot cocoa, face painting, balloon artistry, letters to Santa and a sneak peek of Pioneer Theatre Company’s upcoming production “It Happened One Christmas,” with the windows unveiling at 6 p.m., according to a news release.

If you go ...

What: Macy’s holiday candy windows unveiling

When: Thursday, Nov. 19, activities begin at 5 p.m. with windows unveiling at 6 p.m.

Where: Macy’s City Creek, Main Street windows, 21 S. Main, Salt Lake City

How much: Free

Email: rbrutsch@deseretnews.com