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Photo courtesy Hazel Eye Photography

Revelers check out the trees at last year's Rogue Winterfest in Grants Pass.

Rogue Winterfest is more than a tree auction

The 16th annual Rogue Winterfest — Josephine County’s largest holiday festival — opens Thursday, Nov. 29, at Evergreen Federal Bank’s Bear Hotel in Grants Pass with a gala and auction of 30 elaborate, ornate and more often than not whimsical holiday trees.

Artists spend weeks designing and decorating the trees that fetch hundreds of dollars each year at this unique fundraiser that spotlights and supports mental health programs in Southern Oregon.

The gala auction is already sold out, but the trees, both 7-foot and 4-foot, will be on display for thousands of guests who will attend festivities at the Bear Hotel throughout the weekend. The five-day festival is a winter wonderland for the entire family.

The “Golden Social” on Friday, Nov. 30, and the Culinary Christmas Classic and silent auction on Monday, Dec. 3 are bookends to a wide range of activities planned for Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 1-2.

There will be visits with Santa Claus, an excursion through “Southern Oregon Adventure” and a children’s carnival. Nonstop entertainment with different musicians and vocalists will take the stage every hour.

The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.

General admission tickets for events Saturday and Sunday will be sold at the door. Tickets for adults ages 18 to 54 are $5; children 4 to 17 and seniors (55 and older) are $3; children 3 and younger are free. A family pass (up to six members) is available for $20.

Over the last 15 years, more than $1 million dollars has been raised to benefit Options for Southern Oregon, Kairos and Family Solutions — three nonprofit mental health agencies serving children, teens, adults and families throughout Southern Oregon. Last year’s event generated $170,000.

Other nonprofits have benefited, as well. Many who bid on the holiday trees donate them to other organizations, including Faith House, the Boys and Girls Club and Women’s Crisis Support Team, says Gigi Ashley, a co-coordinator.

The main attractions are the trees, and the popularity and success of the event are due to the artists’ imagination, ingenuity and devotion to the mission of the event, says Ashley.

Like many of the artists, Susan Crisfield is a perennial participant.

She has presented two trees every year since she joined the festival in 2011. She also contributes numerous handcrafted pieces to the festival’s auctions and art sales.

In her barn-studio in Williams, Crisfield is busy putting the finishing touches on two 7-foot whimsical holiday trees and creating unique art pieces for Winterfest. Inspired by nature and found objects she rescues, the trees are definitely not your grandma’s Christmas tree.

One Crisfield has dubbed “Coastal Elegance” is wrapped in driftwood garland; “ornaments” are treasures you might find strewn along the beach. The tree topper is an inverted plastic fishbowl sheathed in a mother-of-pearl mosaic, filled with miniature lights and capped with puffed sea stars.

The other tree, “Ombre,” is encircled in grapevine and features glass orbs every color of the rainbow: lime, green, blue, violet, purple, fuchsia and red, as well as dappled white blown-glass ornaments. The topper is two rings of a shepherd’s hook dangling small blown-glass ornaments. The skirt was fashioned with silk neckties in shades of red, gold and green.

“My art projects are usually something garden-related, also usually found objects,” she says.

This year, festival-goers will view her live walnut lawn chair and a large metal sculpture with flowers made of riveted thimbles, jelly molds, aluminum plates and bowls, and leaves formed with curtain tie-backs and metal candle plates on rebar stems.

She’s also created a vintage Father Christmas vignette — a lighted, decorated tree full of tiny red burlap birds, a handmade fabric Santa with staff and snowshoes and a vintage wooden sleigh with a full bag of toys and gifts.

Crisfield is already thinking ahead to Winterfest 2019.

“I have inspiration boxes (filled with ideas and items) for a couple of future trees,” she says. “Guess I am not done yet.”

Winterfest began as “A Festival of Trees” in 2003 as a fundraiser for Options. In 2006, the Asante Foundation, a majority sponsor, added Kairos and Family Solutions as beneficiaries to further the effort to create more awareness about mental health needs in Josephine County.

After Evergreen Federal came on board in 2007, the festival moved to the Bear Hotel. With a change in venue, the event evolved into more than a tree auction and the name was changed to Rogue Winterfest, says Sue Price, one of the festival’s longtime co-coordinators.

More than 125 volunteers, 50 sponsors, 75 tree designers and 30 culinary and beverage vendors participate.

Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

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Providence Festival of Trees

The annual Providence Festival of Trees in Medford showcases Christmas trees and holiday displays decorated by local businesses, interior designers, florists and other talented people to benefit the Providence Community Health Foundation. The opening night gala for the 27th annual event is from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 28, at the Medford Armory, 1701 S. Pacific Highway, Medford.

A Champagne reception and silent auction will be followed by dinner and live auction (reservations required). A holiday party is from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at the Armory.

Public tours of the creations run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2.

Santa will welcome children during all hours of public events. A photo with Santa will be available for $5. There is no charge to visit with Santa or take pictures with your own camera. For tickets and information, call 541-732-5193 or see https://providencefoundations.org/events.

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