Baubles and Bling: Holiday Trees Sparkle at Bartow-Pell

Maxine DiCarlo of La Gravinese Jewelers decorated this year’s tree in the front hall with shimmering metallic ribbons, white baubles, tinsel, and strings of luminous crystals. La Gravinese Jewelers has been a family-run business since 1917 when it was founded in Manhattan. In 1964, they opened their first retail store just outside New York City in the village of Pelham.

Sparkling baubles gleam like diamonds and rubies. Treasures from the woods, fields, and shore bring nature’s beauty inside. Handmade ornaments recall a charming childhood Christmas in the Victorian era. Lace adds a touch of delicate luxury. And festive decorations celebrate the many wonders of the Bronx.

Eleven joyful trees brighten the mansion’s period rooms and carriage house this holiday season. The décor’s theme—Baubles and Bling—is a tribute to Bartow-Pell’s monikers #bronxjewel and #hiddentreasure. We are also proud to showcase the exciting talents of our local creative community, whose diverse imaginations—and hard work—have given us not only many visual delights to explore, but also an abundance of holiday spirit.

“Chandelier,” North Parlor, Susan Chesloff and Alison McKay, Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Bartow-Pell’s Museum Administrator, Susan Chesloff, and Executive Director, Alison McKay, have designed “Chandelier,” a dazzling evergreen-and-crystal confection in the north parlor that complements the mansion’s magnificent 19th-century chandeliers. The dynamic duo’s inspiration was not just visual. They also looked at the etymology of the word “chandelier” and its origins in French and Latin, ranging from chandelle (candle) to candere (be white, glisten).

“Bronx Gems,” Dining Room, Nicole Perrino, bronxmama.com

The dining-room tree—”Bronx Gems”—was designed by Nicole Perrino, founder of Bronxmamas, a website “that highlights all of the great things for families to enjoy in the Bronx.” This busy mother is the author of “The Unmuted,” a newsletter about happenings in New York City public schools, and she is also involved in the Bronx non-profit Windows of Hip Hop. Nicole’s tree depicts “true Bronx gems—the places, people, and history of the Bronx.” She has a great story to tell about one of the decorations and how it came to be. “One of my ornaments was originally a thermos, but I turned it into a can of spray paint to represent hip hop, since the Bronx is where it all began. Artist Andre Trenier spray-painted the thermos for me, and he and artist Kay Love tagged it up for me. It’s my favorite ornament.” Nicole wrapped gifts with Bronx maps and logos to go under the tree, and she added photographs of some of the borough’s residents to the mantelpiece as a finishing touch.

“Sparkle and Shine,” Downstairs Sitting Room, Athena Kerin, Pelham, New York

Athena Kerin is dedicated to “making the world a brighter place for the next generation” and is the tree decorator of “Sparkle and Shine” in the downstairs sitting room. “Inspired by this year’s theme, Baubles and Bling truly resonated with me,” she reveals. “The appreciation for sparkles and shine allowed me to translate illumination into a Christmas-tree design that guests can enjoy.” And what is the significance of four special figures on Athena’s tree? “The tree-decorating activity also created a unique experience and memories for my family of four, reflected by the only four snowman ornaments.” “May the ‘Sparkle and Shine’ Christmas tree shed light during the Christmas season,” she says radiantly.

Vilma Wiesenmaier of VP Designs, Pelham, New York, created the tree in the Orangerie using handmade lace ornaments, cascading white ribbons, and bunches of red berries.

Handcrafted lace ornaments—made by Vilma Wiesenmaier of Pelham, located just over the New York City line in Westchester County—adorn this year’s tree in the Orangerie. Vilma is the owner and designer of VP Designs, a manufacturer that uses couture laces and trims to create lace products for the home. The company has been in business for forty-two years and supplies Neiman Marcus and high-end linen stores across the country. “I have a love for creating lace masterpieces,” she says. About five years ago, VP Designs started to produce lace ornaments in their “Graced with Lace by Vilmuska” line. “I believe everyone needs beauty in their lives, and every home should be graced with a touch of lace,” which brings “traditional elegance and charm to your home and family gatherings. . . .These cherished luxuries make for memorable moments.”  

Vivette Davis-Scale and Akilia (“Keely”) Scale filled their stunning tree in the Lannuier bedchamber with a dazzling array of white and rose-tinted baubles, ribbons, and lights. A pair of glimmering reindeer add to the magic.

Mother-daughter duo Vivette Davis-Scale and Akilia (“Keely”) Scale (find her on Instagram @allbronxeverything) have teamed up to add some Bronx bling to the Lannuier bedchamber. When asked to decorate one of the mansion’s trees, they were excited and delighted. The result is “Bling,” which honors “the beauty of the borough they love so much.”

“Vintage Treasure, Upstairs Sitting Room, Melissa Mullahey

“Vintage Treasure” in the upstairs sitting room was created by Bronx-born-and-bred artist Melissa Mullahey, a tattoo artist who loves to paint and has worked in Throggs Neck for twenty-six years. Melissa, her family, and her dogs live near Pelham Bay Park, where they “have spent many, many days exploring and enjoying its incredible beauty! It is such a beautiful and big part of my life, that I wanted to incorporate my feelings for the park, as well as the mansion, into my tree,” she says. “The mansion is a hidden treasure that many people still don’t know exists, and when I step through the doors I am taken back in time. It is truly magical. I hand decorated each ornament with materials such as faux pearls, lace, feathers, and chandelier crystals to represent that rich vintage beauty.” She added birds, pine cones, and pink floral bunches “to accent the beautiful pink antique sofa and curtains in the room, while bringing in some nature from the park.” Handmade garlands made of pine cones and pink floral vines adorn the fireplace mantel and desk. And “hints of gold are scattered throughout on mini pinecones and faux grapes to keep the mansion’s glamour intertwined with the nature that surrounds it.”

George Bartow’s Bedchamber, Dr. Maryann Pfeiffer, Pelham, New York,

George was the Bartows’ eldest son, and his bedchamber is decorated with handcrafted ornaments made from recycled and natural materials by Dr. Maryann Pfeiffer, a former board member of the Bartow-Pell Conservancy (and returning tree decorator). “I love creating, and the idea of bling and baubles was interesting, but I wanted to turn it on its head and look at it from another era, specifically the Victorian age,” she explains. Her goal is “to capture the magic of the season through the eyes of a young boy, George.”  Maryanne also wanted her ornaments to “be something a young boy of the era would be able to make,” so she “decorated the tree with branches, pinecones, and ribbons. I created some bling using marbles, wire, and baubles that are handmade. The angels were made from scrap wood and tin cans and are decorated using pyrography (wood burning).” Her hope is that George would be proud of this tree and happy to call it his own.

Theresa Zongrone was inspired by rubies, rubies, rubies when she created this magnificent tree in Clarina Bartow’s bedchamber.

Just like her work, the tree that Bronx artist Lovie Pignata decorated in Bartow-Pell’s carriage house, “#pelhambayparkrocks,” is inspired by the natural beauty of our borough. “Like the many cultures of the Bronx, the shoreline of Pelham Bay Park is full of multifaceted treasures,” she says when describing the idea behind her decorations. “Glacier erratics, quartz, gneiss, mica, marble, and schist are just a few of the natural bling that can be found in Pelham Bay Park.” Lovie’s tree is a collection of images taken in the park over the last several years. She made mirror ornaments using decoupage and acrylic ornaments printed with her photographs. “Shortly before Covid, there was a geology walk scheduled in Pelham Bay Park where I was going to be serving hot chocolate,” she recalls. Although the walk had to be canceled because of the pandemic, she hopes to learn more about the rocks of the park whenever the event is rescheduled.

What baubles and bling can you discover amidst the holiday greenery this year at Bartow-Pell? We hope that you will visit us soon to view these enchanting trees and explore the magic of our #bronxjewel. Many, many thanks to our very talented tree decorators, and happy holidays!

Margaret Highland, Bartow-Pell Historian

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