Gail Simmons is a little crazy about Christmas, especially when it comes to ornaments for the tree. What really inspires her are the fanciful ones made by Christopher Radko. Simmons, a southern California mother of two young boys, lines up her dozen or so pieces on the dining room table whenever the mood takes over, whether in spring or fall.
“Christmas always makes me happy and so do these,” she said, referring to the Radkos (fans wouldn’t dare call them mere ornaments) she’s collected in recent years. “I just enjoy looking at them [because] they remind me of good things. My husband gives me a weird look, but I don’t care.
“Now is the best time [to display them, but], at least for me, any time will do.”
This is clearly a good time for collectors. Radko’s photo book, “Christopher Radko’s Ornaments” (Clarkson Potter Publishers) is available and new varieites of his creations are being offered to the public during the holiday season.
Eddie Benveniste of Irvine, California is a huge fan. He plans to decorate his tree exclusively with Radkos. “I love the vibrant colors,” he said, “and the way they look when the light reflects off them is just magical.”
Benveniste, like all Radko followers, won’t get off cheaply. Radko European-made, hand-painted glass pieces can cost from around $25 to $125, with limited-edition sets going for $800 (look-alike glass ornaments sell for $10 and the higher quality Polonaise Collection starts at $25).
But price doesn’t discourage Shelly Harmon, who searched for Radkos at a shop in Fashion Island Newport Beach in southern California.
“Sure, they’re expensive, but you know you’ll keep them forever,” Harmon explained. “I don’t feel guilty [about buying them], but I do get a little nervous when they’re up on the tree. You break one and it really hurts. Not only because they’re beautiful, but they cost so much.”
Radko has been making holiday ornaments since the mid-1980s when inspiration came to him, literally, by accident. While visiting his parents in Scarsdale, N.Y., in 1983, he knocked over the Christmas tree, smashing several of the antique ornaments.
Radko recalled that his grandmother wrote relatives soon after, saying, “Chris has ruined Christmas. What will we do?”
What Radko did was sketch the ornaments from memory and take them to a glassblower. The finished pieces turned out so well that he made extras and sold them to friends and colleagues at the Manhattan talent agency where he worked. Not long after, Radko was marketing his original designs through Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus.
He also had an explanation for why some people cherish ornaments, his and those that have been in the family for years.
“They become part of the family tradition,” he said. “They help us remember the previous Christmases [and] each ornament holds a story for that family. . . . We’re all so busy, but holidays are excuses to slow down and reconnect with our families, friends and those who mean so much to us.”
Simmons agreed. “I got one awhile back, a sort of simple one, of a marching soldier, and Harry (her son) went nuts over it,” Simmons recalled. “He was very little and kept wanting to hold it and I had to watch him very closely. But his excitement was something I just loved.”
Harmon had a similar story. She once bought a Radko depicting a candy house for her mother, who was so taken by it that she has become a collector herself.
“My mom couldn’t stop giggling over it [and] marveling about its [uniqueness],” Harmon said. “I remember that so well because it was her favorite gift that year . . . that was a special Christmas for us.”
Author’s note: You may also be interested in Fun Facts About Santa and Christmas. And for other interesting articles, please visit Nick Smithville.