The holiday garland of red bandannas that kept showing up behind President-elect George W. Bush at photo ops in the Texas Governor's Mansion in Austin last week heralded an unmistakable message: Yippee! Texas style is back.
After every presidential election, America braces for changes in foreign policy, domestic priorities and tax proposals. And in ways large and small, the personal style set by the new residents of the White House will be influencing culture on the home front as well. Dust off your Christmas cactuses and start stringing those chili lights.
For an early look at what the Bushes will bring to the White House, click on the official Web site for the Texas governor:
You'll get a holiday tour of the stately Greek Revival house that has been the official residence of Texas governors since 1856. For each of the five years that Laura and George W. Bush and their twin daughters have lived in the white two-story house, they have saluted a different Lone Star theme at Christmas. This year: Texas ranches.
The seasonal decorations throughout the main floor and grounds include spurs, cowboy boots, windmills, a "Dubya" (W) branding iron and a white cowboy hat belonging to the president-elect nestled in greenery atop a bookcase.
Ken Blasingame, a Forth Worth interior designer and artist, assisted Laura Bush by designing and installing the decorations, as he has for most of the Bushes' years in the residence.
Blasingame said the idea to decorate the mantels at the Governor's Mansion by tying red, green, blue and yellow bandannas end-to-end came to him because the bandanna is such an icon of Texas living. He dug into a stash of bandannas used for picnics by the Friends of the Governor's Mansion, a nonprofit organization that raises money to maintain the property.
"There are still ranchers here who wear bandannas for a practical purpose," he said. "It is something that relates historically to cowboys and ranching. That's why we used them."
Familiar objects of daily life on the ranch decorate the public rooms. Miniature saddles that saddlemakers used as samples a century ago are on loan from collectors across the state. Artisans created galvanized tin stars and other ornaments for the five rooms that are open to the public for tours. Outdoors, an authentic chuck wagon is parked in front of the columned mansion and strung with lights; the sidewalks are lined with luminarias; a life-size cowboy Santa hangs out on the front porch.
Laura Bush chose the decorative theme. "Ranching has been an important part of the Texas economy for centuries," said the incoming first lady in a statement earlier this month. "I hope these ranch mementos will remind Texans of this important part of our history and culture."
Blasingame said he and Laura Bush began planning decorations for the Texas mansion early this year. "Each year, Mrs. Bush selects a theme and the theme is always related to Texas," said Blasingame, who worked with a group of about a dozen volunteers to decorate the mansion starting the day after Thanksgiving.
Last year, the theme for the holiday decorations was Mexican folk art; in 1997, they used holiday ornaments and decorations on loan from former residents of the mansion.
The designer worked with the Bushes on a number of earlier projects, including the interior of their Dallas home and also at their new Crawford ranch, about 90 miles north of Austin, now destined to become the Texas White House. He would not tip his hat about any possible assignments in Washington.
He said Laura Bush has told him that the response to the Texas theme has been very positive. "She said that people were really enthusiastic about the decorations and excited to see them because they are so personal. And everything is made in Texas."
About 30,000 people tour the Texas mansion each year; traffic in the past few weeks has been particularly brisk. "We are always really busy," said Jane Cook, administrator of the Web site for the governors office. "But this year, everyone is more aware of whose house they are viewing."
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