Davidson turns light bulbs into ornaments

December 21, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

The symbol of a light bulb going on to represent a great idea definitely applies to Sue Davidson. Except, in her case, the light bulb has gone out.

She changes used light bulbs into all kinds of Christmas tree ornaments. With paint, glitter and hats, she creates elves, Santas - both black and white - penguins, reindeer, and snowmen whose toboggans are in colors of various athletic teams.

"I figure a light bulb is something you're throwing in the garbage, so take something and make something out of it."

All the bulbs grace a tree she keeps in the basement of her Danville home. The decorating scheme of her basement tree is a little different than most. She puts it up in September to use as a drying rack for the ornaments and by the end of November it has about 300 ornaments on it or underneath it.


"By Christmas this tree will be bare," she says.

Slowly, her three children and seven grandchildren will arrive to pick off ornaments that they select for friends, co-workers and teachers.

"It's really neat for them to walk in and say, 'Nanny, I need something for this teacher.'"

She has made some in maroon for Eastern Kentucky University where her oldest grandchild is studying deaf education. Others are in University of Kentucky blue where her next oldest grandchild is a student.

Davidson also will deliver a few to members of her church, elderly friends at Arnold Towers and the people in the aerobics classes she teaches at the William E. "Bunny" Davis Recreational Complex. Her son, Troy Davidson, a Danville police officer, has been asking for some for co-workers who are fans of out-of-state sports teams. His mother wasn't even sure about the colors, so she consulted the JC Penney catalog to be certain.

Davidson started making the light bulb ornaments about 12 years ago because she wanted people for her own Christmas tree. Being creative was a necessity when she was growing up in Tennessee.

"As a child, we grew up in a time when if you had it, you made it. If I had paper dolls, I made them."

The word gets out about her talent

Others found out about her skills when her church, Calvary Baptist, was holding an auction to raise money to send a young man on a mission trip. Davidson sent 13 of the bulbs that she aimed to be sold as a set. All but one of the bulbs were dark-haired to look like the Mexican children with whom the missionaries would work. One was blond to represent the man going on the trip. The people in charge of the auction sold them separately and the word was out about her talent.

Davidson modestly doesn't consider her work that impressive, but others do.

"One fellow looked at my bulbs and he said, 'That's Kentucky folk art.' To me, it's just a dead bulb."

Many church members have received small bulbs when they had new grandchildren. Davidson loves to give the bulbs, and some of her favorite recipients are the women who live at Arnold Towers, because they act so thrilled with the small gift.

"They're not allowed to have live trees and they'll hang them along the curtains," she says.

One special friend there, Isabel Andrews, used to keep Davidson's children in the nursery at the bowling alley. When Davidson presented her with a Santa, Andrews, a black woman, asked about the color of the skin.

"Isabel started me with my black Santas."

Other recipients are the dozen or so members of the aerobics class Davidson loyally has taught twice a week for more than 20 years. She also is an avid racquetball player.

Several sources for the bulbs

The recreation department, Arnold Towers and church members all are big bulb suppliers. Davidson especially likes the globe-like ones that she figures come from the burned out lights around the recreation department's swimming pool. She makes larger snowmen with these. She also has snowmen that light up with a night light placed inside a votive glass stacked on top of a bud vase.

With all the suppliers, the stockpile is good. Davidson guesses she has about 1,000 bulbs awaiting personalities. Her husband, George, says it's not unusual to go to the front door and retrieve a sack.

"You wake up one morning and this is what you find," he says while holding a plastic grocery bag full of bulbs.

Since retiring as a conductor for Norfolk Southern Railroad, George Davidson has been recruited by his wife. He helps apply the many layers of paint of acrylic paint they need before they receive their faces.

"He has a table in the garage. It takes about six coats to get them how I want," Sue Davidson says.

Her UK bulbs are among her most popular

After the faces are applied, Davidson will use socks or flannel material for hats. Some of her most popular ones are the University of Kentucky blue hats. A neighbor came over the see all the ornaments and only had one critique.

"She said, 'OK, where's the Louisville bulb?' So, I made my first one," Davidson says, noting that her neighbor will be the recipient.

In addition to the ornaments, Davidson makes a lot of sour dough bread and small loaves of plum bread to give to her friends. Many times, people want to pay her for it.

"The thing about giving it is, even at Arnold Towers, they want to buy it, and I don't want to sell it. I enjoy giving it. I don't think it would turn out if I sold it."

Regardless of her generous spirit, Davidson has not let every ornament walk out of the house. She keeps a few of what she terms her misfits, because they're her favorites. A snowman with his buttons off-center from his face endears himself to her because of his imperfection.

"He'll stay with me, unless I meet someone who I really, really like," she says. "Most of the time, I give away my best and my best are not my favorites."

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