Tradition - and competition - behind Perkins' holiday card

Holiday card artwork quilt square with houses outlined in holiday lights

Aidan, 14, had the winning artwork for this year's holiday card. The quilt square depicts his apartment building and houses in his neighborhood aglow with holiday lights.

December 10, 2014

Every September, when students are still shaking beach sand from their shoes, Lower School art teacher Rocky Tomascoff is envisioning snowflakes and family celebrations.

It’s not that she’s impatient to rush through the term. It’s that she’s in charge of creating Perkins’ holiday card – and it must be completed by Columbus Day.

In the first week of school, Tomascoff picks three students between the ages of 7 and 14.  Each one will create a piece of holiday-themed artwork, either a collage or an image crafted from fabric, along with a quote that describes how the image makes them feel.

Those three pieces will then be sent to the president of Perkins, who will choose one to be made into Perkins’ traditional holiday card. This year, that task falls for the first time to Perkins President and CEO Dave Power.

No matter how exceptional all three works of art may be, said Tomascoff, “I make it clear that this is a contest. Only one gets chosen.”

To get the students started on the creative process, Tomascoff talks about what the holiday means to them. She has them describe in detail what they do with their families and what holiday experiences they enjoy most. “I start by asking: what do you like to do outdoors? Indoors? With your family?” she said.

There’s another consideration Tomascoff has to keep in mind. “These cards get sent out all over the world,” she said. “So I need to think about how different cultures will react to the images.”

Once they have selected a theme for their cards, the students work on them during their weekly art classes, and any other times they can squeeze in. Tomascoff also needs time to work one-on-one with each student, especially if their artwork requires a sewing machine to assemble.

She gives the finished artwork to the president right after the Columbus Day weekend. Once he makes his decision, the winning design is sent to a lithographer for printing and to National Braille Press for brailling. As the year’s official holiday card, it’s then mailed to donors, supporters and volunteers.

This year’s student artists created three different interpretations of “holiday.” Eight-year-old Madison’s collage of cookies and carrots for Santa and Rudolph was made of felted paper and other textured materials for a 3-D look and feel. Prasha, 8, took a classic approach, and sewed a Christmas tree with ornaments.

But the winner was Aidan, 14. His quilted square depicted a tall apartment building and two smaller houses in his neighborhood done up in colorful holiday lights, with the moon and stars overhead. He was excited to be chosen, and took extra cards home to share with his family.

All three students will receive a framed copy of their artwork, but Aidan will have his presented to him at Perkins’ annual holiday concert, on stage in front of an appreciative audience.

Tomascoff has a bulletin board in her classroom plastered with cards from the 30 years that she has been doing this. Each card is different and each one tells its own story.

“I look at them and I think of the student and what it took to make the card,” she said. “It’s fun to see what the end result is, but it’s like, oh my gosh, it’s the second of September, I need to get going on this!”

Read more about: Arts & Music, Awards, Early Learning