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How Sweet It Is! to design a giant Macy’s ornament

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Morgan Artist Jennifer Vesper poses with her confectionary creation in the Macy’s City Creek holiday windows.

Traveling north to south in Utah, one can encounter the Golden Spike monument, beautiful mountains for skiing and recreation, Goblin Valley, and Lake Powell with Rainbow Bridge.  But rarely will one come across a giant Santa composed entirely of candy skiing down those mountains, or two licorice trains meeting at a Sixlet covered Golden Spike.  To view saccharine sensations such as these, along with other literal and physical eye-candy representing the theme of “Utah,” one must travel to the annual Macy’s Holiday Candy Windows at City Creek in Salt Lake City.

Featured in this display, complete with Santa, a Golden Spike and Lake Powell in all its glorious “Willa Wonka-esque” glory is Jennifer Vesper’s giant, 42-inch circumference original all-candy ornament.  Vesper, a Morgan County artist, cake decorator and The Morgan County News managing editor, was one of six Utah residents chosen to create the elaborate holiday ornaments for the display.

Vesper first applied for the opportunity a few years ago, but was not chosen.  “This year,” she reported, “the program was under new management and I got a call about applying.  I submitted my bio and a preliminary sketch and I was so, so excited to be chosen.”  Truth be told, designing and creating a Macy’s Holiday Candy Window ornament was on Vesper’s bucket list.

After her selection for the process, Vesper was directed to a website to begin ordering her $1,000 worth of candy. 

“I was surprised at how well I guessed about how much candy I needed.  I only have a little left over.  When asked if she was tempted to sample all the goodies, she responded, “I knew if I ate any of the candy, I would end up needing just one or two more pieces, soI didn’t dare eat any of it,” she reported. With new directors over the program, Vesper was left to guess on her candy amount by herself and was very pleased with the result.  “I only had to re-order one thing, more jelly beans for the mountains; it was pretty overwhelming to first go to the site and realize that I was ordering over 150 pounds of candy to put on my 42-inch circumference ball.”

Close-up view of the rootbeer gummy bottles and root beer barrel candy used on the upper portion of Vesper’s Utah themed ornament.

After the candy arrived and she started hot gluing it to the ornament, she quickly realized that despite her blisters, it was much easier to work with glue than her normal decorating medium of water and frosting.  “Glue made it so much easier to get things to stick than frosting,” she declared.

Vesper put in hundreds of hours of work on her ornament, mainly working alone in her Morgan garage until last week, when a vehicle arrived to transport her ornament to Macy’s in Salt Lake.  Vesper’s sister, Kendra Polson, joined her to help put the finishing touches on the ornament.  “My sister helps me a lot with my cakes, so it was great to work with her on this too.  I love working with my sister. She has huge personal space issues, so it was especially entertaining to finish the bottom pieces with her. We were sitting on the floor, crammed together trying to get all those jelly beans in a tiny area.”

The theme for the contest this year was “Utah” and Vesper hoped to portray the natural beauty of Utah while adding significant personal touches.  Vesper loves to visit Lake Powell with her family, so her husband’s uncle’s boat became the model for the blue-and-white cruiser that juts out from the ornament. 

“Making the ornament was so much fun and so much work.  It was amazing to finally arrive in Salt Lake and see how diverse each ornament was and how vastly different each artist interpreted the theme,” Vesper commented as she drove home from her marathon days of completing the work onsite.  “The other artists were so talented and gracious.  I learned so much from them.  Three of us were there for the first time and one of the others, it was his third year.  He was so helpful.”

Vesper’s favorite part of her ornament is the Santa, because she loves doing character pieces, but she was surprised at how much she enjoyed doing the trains. “They were so fun.”  She thinks her most unique candy used was root beer bottles, but she said that it in no way compares to artist Geri Cordova who used “gummy chicken feet” for autumn leaves.

“I think this whole experience is just magical. Seeing all these ornaments that are created as a labor of love, with no compensation, just for the love of Christmas, reminds me of all that is still good in the world,” noted Vesper. Each ornament is a unique representation of each individual artist’s style and vision.

“This was such a great, once-in-a-lifetime, experience for me.  I loved being a part of it and it was just meant to be this year!” Vesper exuded.  The unveiling for the traditional Candy Windows took place on Thursday, Nov. 16—a very special time for Vesper.  “Nov. 17 is my older sister, Jan Petersen’s birthday.  She would have been 47 this year.  She was my biggest fan for cakes and all of my artistic endeavors, even ordering cakes from me when she lived in New Mexico.

“Having the unveiling so close her birthday is very special to me.” Jan passed away in 2011 of gall bladder cancer, and having this unveiling just a day before her birthday is a way we can celebrate this success together.  She was my biggest fan and I miss her, I just know she is proud of what I created,” Vesper quietly concluded.

Morgan County can be proud of Vesper’s creation and can view it in Salt Lake City through New Year’s.  Check back next week for an additional story on the unveiling ceremony and public reaction to Vesper’s creation.

Number’s guide to the sixth annual Holiday Candy Windows, as provided by Macy’s:

• 3-5 months to create and install Macy’s Holiday Candy Window displays

• 2 weeks of installation time

• 20 artists, on average, who apply each year

• 6 spots

• $1,000-$2,000 spent per candy-covered ornament

• 1,269 pounds of candy

• 129 different candy varieties

The top 10 candies used by the artists in this year’s display:

• 175 pounds of jumbo black licorice twists

• 101.5 pounds of ice blue mint squares hard candy

• 90 pounds of Banana Heads

• 48 pounds of Bruiser Jawbreakers

• 45 pounds of lime Fruit Slices

• 35 pounds of lemon Fruit Sours

• 35 pounds of Chick-o-Stick nuggets

• 30 pounds of pina colada Fruit Sours, lemon Fruit Slices, butterscotch discs and Tootsie Roll Midgees

• 29 pounds of assorted candy rods

• 24 pounds of blue raspberry twists

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