A few weeks ago Erika Ammann was preparing to return to Australia for her annual three-month stay when she received an invitation to visit the White House. She cancelled her flight, changed her plans, and on Nov. 30 found herself traveling to the nation’s capital to see an ornament she had painted hung on the White House Christmas tree.Erika had just dropped her husband off at the airport to send him on his way to Australia. She was planning on joining him, but when she got home she found the invitation in her mail.”I rang him up and I said, ‘I’m not coming, I’m going to the White House,'” she says.Erika is a member of the Society of Decorative Painters, a 26,000 worldwide member organization that was invited to provide ornaments for the official White House Christmas tree, an 18-foot Noble Fir that decorates the Blue Room during the Christmas season. This year 313 members of the Society, whose hand-painted ornaments were chosen for display, were invited for a special luncheon to view the tree. The theme for this year’s tree is “A Season of Merriment and Melody,” which Laura Bush announced in celebration of the melodies that have “brought joy to Americans for generations.”And so, on Dec. 1, Erika found herself along with her close friend, Monika Krogmann, in the White House shaking the hand of the first lady, an honor that Erika didn’t take lightly.”I wasn’t going to miss it for anything in the world,” Erika says. “There isn’t that many chances to go to the White House.”I was so mesmerized just being there. They had 41 of these beautiful trees all decorated, it looked like a forest.”Monika Krogmann, Erika’s friend and guest on her recent Washington D.C. trip was also thrilled by her recent good fortune, “I must have done something good; Santa Claus came early this year,” Krogmann says with a laugh. “I never expected this in my wildest dreams.”Erika was born in Lucerne, Switzerland but met her husband Walter (who is from Switzerland as well) while traveling in Australia.In 1987, while living in Australia, Erika learned to paint and began entering competitions. Her passion was fueled when she began winning those competitions. She started teaching her technique, called multi-load (a layering technique where the paint is loaded on the brush in certain sequences) in 1990 and soon learned of the Society of Decorative Painters convention. In 1992 she traveled to Kansas City to attend and was so impressed that she applied to teach the following year.Erika kept traveling back to the United States to teach classes year after year and finally she was able to obtain U.S. residency because of her painting abilities.”(The technique) I use wasn’t really very well known over here,” she says.Krogmann has a great appreciation for her good friend’s art and says it makes her nostalgic for her younger days. “(Erica’s art is) a very traditional kind of art,” Krogmann says, “and being German myself, it kind of puts me back to my childhood.”After Erika obtained residency, it wasn’t hard for her and her husband to chose Vail as their home.”My husband is a musician, he plays the accordion, and in 1976 we came (to Vail) for the first time and played for Pepi Gramshammer,” Erika remembers. “I loved it, I just loved it here. I wanted to have a base here and travel everywhere to teach.”Because of Erika’s artistic abilities, she has taught classes around the world, including England, Portugal, Japan, and Australia. Scattered throughout her house are the wooden pieces of furniture her husband crafted and she’s painteda clock decorated with elaborate scrolls and colorful flowers along with the German saying, “Nutze die Zeit,” which translates to “Make use of the time,” a wooden cash register she puts to use when she travels to conventions to sells the books and videos she’s published, as well as her own artwork and even a paintbrush with her name on it.”I like to make pieces that are functional as well,” Erika says.Now Erika spends nine months out of the year in Vail and travels back to Australia for the other three, a combination that she truly loves. Though she is not traveling around to teach quite as much as she used to, Erika still attends about three conventions a year around the United States. She also manages to keep busy painting the wood furnishings her husband creates, and also by doing faux wall paintings and cabinet refurbishing for various homeowners in the valley. And she still finds time to spend time on the slopes skiing with her husband and friends.”I like to ski, but I’m not very good. I always say when I ski with friends, I’m the taillights,” Erika says with a laugh. VTCaramie Schnell can be reached for comment at email@example.com
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