Whimsical Santas live here

Staff reporter

For Sharon Kelsey of Marion, Christmas is one of her favorite times of the year.

She goes all out in decorating her home for the holidays — making it inviting and fun for all who enter.

The personable, family-oriented Marion County native has numerous collections of nutcrackers, angels, and nativity scenes, but Sharon also has an impressive assortment of Christmas trees.

These Christmas trees typically have themes such as outdoors with fishing bobbers and pine cones, dolls, angels, nutcrackers, and even an M&M candy tree in the kitchen.

"I want my family to come in and feel free to touch the trees and the decorations," Sharon said. So, there aren't too many breakables.

Another collection Sharon has is hand-painted gourds, most painted and decorated to look like Santa Claus.

Sharon and husband Gerald, retired Marion County Road Superintendent, grow some of the gourds in their backyard. Other gourds are purchased.

The process to prepare the gourds for decorating is long — usually about a year because the gourd has to be cleaned and allowed to dry.

An interior paint, similar to the kind used on walls, is used as an undercoat. An acrylic craft paint is used to make the details.

Sharon said she took drawing classes at Butler Community College and painted on china.

"I started painting with Bessie Bass, who is so very talented," Sharon said, "and she had painted on gourds for years."

With friend Pam Bredemeier, the trio began painting on a regular basis. Sharon has been painting gourds for about five to seven years.

"Some days we did more talking than painting," Sharon said with a smile.

The friendships with the women and the relaxation Sharon received from the painting "therapy sessions" helped through many trying times — most particularly when Gerald was sick with a heart condition.

Typically Sharon paints 15-20 gourds each year, depending on the amount of time she had available to enjoy her hobby.

Her family has come to expect a gourd each year as a part of their presents.

Most of her subjects on the gourds are the jolly old elf but she has cut out gourds for nativity scenes.

"Each item is unique," Sharon said. No two faces are the same and because the shape of the gourds vary, so does the shape of Santa.

Sharon also likes including details such as Santa holding a Santa Claus snow globe, letters in Santa's pockets, and different expressions on Santa's faces.

She gets some of her ideas from pictures, magazines, and pattern books, but mostly they just come to her.

"I used to do a lot more baking and making candy for Christmas before Gerald got sick," Sharon said. After Gerald had his first heart attack in the late 1990s, she needed to do other things for the holidays besides baking sweets and foods that were restricted to her husband.

"I still do quite a bit of baking and cooking when the family's around but not as much," she said.

The gourds, although light in weight and seemingly delicate to the touch, should last forever if they are processed properly.

Sharon also has made small Santa Claus gourd decorations which hang on a tree of their own.

"Those take a lot of time, too, even though they're smaller," Sharon said.

These days, Gerald's health has improved. He no longer is on a waiting list for a heart transplant and is enjoying good health.

Sharon keeps busy as a substitute teacher at schools in the county. She also volunteers at her church and in the Marion community.

So the time she used to have to paint gourds and do other craft projects is not as plentiful as before but she continues to enjoy whatever free time she has for projects.

With anticipation the Kelseys look forward to another Christmas with the family, homemade traditions, and maybe just a little bit of Christmas candy.