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Hanging with Oregons ornament lady

Betty Woods Gimarelli's artwork is displayed each Christmas on trees across the state and in the White House
by: L.E. BASKOW, Christmas ornament artist and designer Betty Woods Gimarelli has produced 24K gold-plated Portland ornaments since 1989. Her tree at home shows off many of the pieces created in the past 20 years, gaining her worldwide recognition.

Longtime Portlander Betty Woods Gimarelli decorates her Christmas tree every year, and it's mighty impressive with several fresh roses in vials and scores of 24-carat gold-plated ornaments.

She gazes at her tree with pride. They're all her ornaments.

'Takes me three days to decorate,' she says.

As owner of Portland Ornament, Gimarelli is unofficially regarded as the city's Christmas ornament maker. For 21 years, she has made limited-edition ornaments that she sells during the holiday season. This year, her sketching and casting of the state Capitol and commemoration of Oregon's 150th anniversary received national recognition, listed in the holiday edition of People Extra magazine as Oregon's entry among 50 state ornaments. One of the state Capitol ornaments is hanging on a Christmas tree at the White House.

'It's a big deal,' she says.

Gimarelli, a retired business executive and former art teacher, took up designing ornaments in the 1980s. Her husband, Jim, was chef concierge at the Benson Hotel, and the Benson wanted holiday gifts for clients - 'something elegant, affordable and packable,' she says. It started with mugs and T-shirts, and eventually Gimarelli made her first ornament in 1989.

She makes a Christmas ornament, commemorating a structure in Portland or Oregon. At the urging of Elmer and Kitty Nordstrom, she also has made an ornament for Seattle for 16 years - two of them are of Safeco Field and Qwest Field.

Gimarelli does commission pieces, and sells ornaments at Made In Oregon stores and through her Web site (www.portlandornament.com). The State Capitol ornament retails for $29.95.

She says the 1989 and 1990 Christmas ornaments are sold out, with the '90 limited edition ornament (only 5,000 made) going for $400 to $500 on eBay. It has been sold out for 10 years, she says

Gimarelli has made 20,000 of the state Capitol ornaments, and the number might grow because of the People Extra publicity.

Each year, Portland pianist Michael Allen Harrison produces a CD to accompany Gimarelli's ornament.

Intrigued by history

Jim Gimarelli is proud of his wife. 'She's got a wonderful imagination,' says the Portland native, who retired from the Benson in 1993. 'Sometimes I have to tell her, 'You're working too hard.''

The Gimarellis have been married for 56 years, as long as Betty has lived in Portland. She's originally from Kansas City, Mo., and grew up in Richland, Wash.

Gimarelli is particularly proud of her 1995 City Hall ornament, which is buried in the city's time capsule, and the 2007 Crown of Rosaria ornament.

She has done an ornament for Pittock Mansion, Oaks Pioneer Church, Hollywood Theater, St. Patrick's Church, Benson Hotel and Benson House. She has done ornaments for the 1998 Nike World Masters Games, 2002 Winter Olympics and 2003 U.S. Women's Open. She won Pinnacle Award gold for her Dragon Boat ornament and bronze for Crown of Rosaria.

'A lot of things out there intrigue me and are such a part of our history,' she says.