By Jamie Larson
In 1976 Matt McGhee
opened his first shop in Greenwich Village selling oriental decorative pieces. That Christmas, however, it was his traditional tree ornaments that captured the imagination of holiday shoppers. Now, 40 years later and relocated to Hudson New York, McGhee’s shop (it too called Matt McGhee
) is filled with handsome examples of his original designs as well as traditional antique ornaments and decorations of pewter and glass.
The 40th is the ruby anniversary and for the occasion McGhee has painted a new edition of his classic Saint Nick ornament with what else but ruby colored highlights. Made in Germany to McGhee’s specifications, his creations are classical and whimsical. While they might be as high style as decorations get, they still shine with a sense of fun.
“In the early '80s I began traveling to Germany and dealing directly with producers,” McGhee says. “Over the years I have taken more of a hand in the design of the ornaments I carry, ranging from specifying the colors that traditional forms are painted, to — in some cases — sculpting models from which molds are made and the ornaments blown, and then painted in Germany or by me.”
McGhee and partner Ronald Kopniki said the appeal of Christmas ornaments is a kind of healthy nostalgia. Because you see them for only a little while each year, the feeling and the memories they impart intensifies.
“It’s a thing that binds the generations,” says Kopniki. “The memories attached to the decorations go beyond the actual objects.”
The shop itself makes for an elegant and festive visit. In one of Warren Street’s beautiful old buildings the space is resplendent with ornate historic moldings and built-in cabinets that set the perfect stage for art glass or the intricately painted little dioramas and Nativities. The miniature pewter “flats” that make up the little winter and woodland scenes are a really pleasant surprise. They are sweet looking from far away and a wonder from up close, hand painted in intricate, nearly microscopic detail.
"Flats are a key component of my business,” McGhee says. “These hand-cast, hand-painted forms and figures are related not only to Christmas, but to other themes and seasons. There are trees, bare or in leaf, elaborate 18th-century garden scenes, winter skating scenes and circus scenes, for example, as well as Christmas trees, Santa in his sleigh or carrying a sack of gifts, and Nativity scenes.”
McGhee’s ornaments seem somehow pre-charged with pleasant holiday memories. There’s a collective sense of the holiday warmth molded and painted into them, by his own hand or his elves over in Germany.
“The ornaments can be very old fashioned or traditional but then also very colorful. You’re allowed to be colorful,” Kopniki says. “And when it comes to some of the art glass, we are also talking about beautiful things you can display all year.”
Winter Walk is coming up this Saturday in Hudson. Warren Street will be closed to cars and the street filled with shoppers, window watchers and holiday performances. There is perhaps no better time to go look around Matt McGhee for your next favorite ornament.
445 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
Holiday Season Hours:
Daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.