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Posted November 24, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

An Ornamental Tradition

By Laetitia Clayton - lclayton@nvdaily.com

CROSS JUNCTION -- Hundreds of small, square boxes are stacked on shelves in a storage room at Timber Ridge School. More boxes sit on a shelf in Troy Newbraugh's office at the school.

Each holiday season, Newbraugh, the school's director of development, embarks on a mission to get the contents of the boxes into as many hands as possible. And, considering that a Mort Künstler collectible ornament rests inside each one, selling them has never been a problem.

Künstler, an artist well known for his Civil War paintings, has captured many scenes and landmarks from across the area based on events surrounding the war. Since 1996, he has donated the use of his artwork to the school to reproduce for the ornaments. Sales over the last 14 years have raised more than $550,000, Newbraugh says.

The proceeds go to help Timber Ridge, a licensed residential treatment center and school for adolescent boys with emotional and behavioral disorders.

"A number of them also have learning disabilities," says the school's executive director, John Lamanna. "We provide all their needs. They live here and go to school here."

Künstler visited Timber Ridge in 2001 to see firsthand what the school does.

"Mort met our kids and played basketball on that court out there," Lamanna says. "And he fell in love with our kids."

Each year, the school selects a different piece of existing work by Künstler to place on the ornaments, and past or sold-out ornaments have fetched anywhere from several hundred dollars to nearly $1,000 on eBay, Newbraugh says.

This year's 15th anniversary ornament, The Gray Ghost, depicts Mosby's Rangers -- led by John S. Mosby -- on horseback in Warrenton on Jan. 18, 1863. The county courthouse building is behind them, standing out against a dark wintry sky. Künstler painted the oil-on-canvas scene in 2009.

Those who purchase an ornament also get a chance to win a print of the same work. The more ornaments bought, the more chances there are to win.

Newbraugh says one reason The Gray Ghost was chosen is because it's local and is likely to generate more local interest. It's also the first ornament with a silver frame, as the rest have been gold.

"So many people have said this is the best one," he says.

Money raised from ornament sales has helped Timber Ridge build three residential cottages, a ropes course, athletic fields and a new gymnasium, according to the school's website, www.timber-ridge-school.org.

In fact, the school even dedicated a new residential hall to the artist in 2003. Mort Künstler Hall accommodates 16 boys in eight rooms and has a lounge, kitchen and recreation area. Newbraugh says when Künstler came to see the facility named after him, he decided to donate 15 prints from his private collection to hang on the walls.

"I don't know if words can really say what [Künstler has] meant to this school," Newbraugh says. "He believes in what we do. He believes in our mission.

"He's an extraordinary artist, but he's a 10 times better person."

The school's relationship with Künstler has not only raised money, but also awareness, he adds. Each year, the school now fulfills ornament orders from 40 states, the United Kingdom, Canada and France.

"Through his ornaments, he has introduced over 3,000 people to the school and to what we do," Newbraugh says. "A lot of those people end up making contributions. He's given us national exposure."

The 2010 ornament costs $25 and can be ordered on the school's website at www.timber-ridge-school.org/help/2010-ornament.php or by contacting Newbraugh at 877-877-3005, 888-3456, ext. 1223, or tnewbraugh@trschool.org.


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