Celebrating Christmas at the Governor’s Mansion

by Don Bingham

The Arkansas Governor’s Mansion is decked out in its Christmas splendor to welcome guests throughout the holiday season.

Planning begins in January as the theme for the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion is selected. After First Lady Susan Hutchinson selects her favorite theme, a talented committee, headed by the Mansion staff and Tim Morris of Conway, designs the various aspects of the 30,000-square-foot Mansion and the Grand Hall.  

The 2015 theme was “Carols of Christmas.” Decorating took two weeks of construction, preparation, painting, strands upon strands of garland and a life-size Santa, sleigh and all his reindeer suspended from the Grand Hall ceiling! Each day of the two weeks requires a crew of 25 designers and decorators.

Last year, 16 “larger than life” nutcrackers stood guard over the day-to-day holiday events in the Grand Hall. Each dinner and reception was welcomed with the presence of an Old World Candy Store, located in the lower atrium art gallery.

Eighteen Christmas trees flanked the upper atrium and the formal living room. Snow-flocked trees housed a flock of red birds and suspended bird cages. New to the Mansion Christmas décor was the life-size, singing reindeer with mobilized antlers and a life-size Santa’s sleigh.

Specialty lighting and musical enhancements in various locations throughout the Mansion require technical teams to ensure the quality and safety of the decorations.

The receptions, parties, dinners and open house begin immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday. The Annual Mansion Christmas Open House has been presented each year since the beginning of the Mansion in 1950.

This year, the Mansion is decorated around the theme of Handel’s “Messiah.” The public rooms in the Mansion are adorned in rich colors and musical instruments. As guests move into the Janet Huckabee Grand Hall, they are transported to a Renaissance-style cathedral. The lower atrium features award-wining art on display from local artists designed around the Messiah.

The First Lady plays an important role with her selection of the annual theme. “The 2015 theme was ‘Carols of Christmas’ and each room featured a different carol or Christmas song. The formal living room was decorated with the carol ‘Joy to the World,’ with the atrium decorated around the holiday song ‘Let It Snow’ and the Grand Hall with ‘Deck the Halls,’” said the First Lady. “It takes a lot of labor, time and energy to produce the wonderland that invites Arkansas to the People’s House each year. The decorators and designers are a combination of Friends of the Mansion, the Mansion Association, decorators through the years with each administration and our own house staff keeping all things working together.”

Through the artistry of Morris and a crew of painters and carpenters, most all of the life-size, detailed figures and signage are created for the Mansion at Christmas.  

“I have never looked forward to decorating and seeing Christmas unfold before my eyes as I do each year when the Mansion comes alive with the celebration of God’s great gift to mankind,” said the First Lady. “Asa and I become kids again with the joy and excitement!”