SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND — A nine-meter-tall holiday tree stands in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside the nation’s capital, but it's not a traditional Christmas tree.
The colorful, cone-shaped exhibit is made out of toys -- hundreds of them: sports balls, rackets, kid-size chairs and tables, xylophones, sleds, coin banks, plastic brooms, bats, Frisbees and more.
The towering collection grabs the attention of passersby like Shelaney Campbell and Lauren Fleming, who live and work in the area.
“It stands out," Campbell said. "I can’t help looking at it every time I pass by it. You know it’s an interesting concept, to make a tree out of toys."
“I think that downtown Silver Spring has its own character," Fleming said. "And so putting this type of tree downtown really makes sense for the area. This tree probably is kind of a better fit than the traditional tree.”
Suzan Jenkins, who heads the county’s Arts and Humanities Council, agrees.
“I love the top of it," she said. "It’s so whimsical, playful, beautiful. It doesn’t matter where you come from, this tree makes you smile.”
In collaboration with the Silver Spring business community, the council issued a challenge for artists to come up with a non-traditional concept for a Christmas tree. The design by Karl Unnasch was an instant winner.
“His vision just was perfect for what we were hoping to accomplish," Jenkins said, "being able to put together these found objects that all related to playtime, fun and all the things that people love about the holidays, his vision made this really stand out.”
Unnasch is an architectural artist and he wanted to create something extremely colorful.
“I also was interested in actually taking the toys that you usually see under the holiday tree and make the tree out of the toys themselves,” he said.
Constructing the installation he calls “Playtime Jubilee” took two months, a process he found both fun and challenging.
“The biggest challenge was actually the math," Unnasch said. "I’m trying to cover a huge cone shape, a three-dimensional cone shape, so I have to make sure my math was right. The next challenge was selection of the items because I didn’t want it to be a mass of things that didn’t work well with each other visiually.”
Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, and Christians continue the gift-giving tradition to celebrate what they believe is God's gift of forgiveness to mankind.
Laurie Yankowsk of the Peterson Cos., which manages Downtown Silver Spring, says what she likes most about the tree is how it embodies that spirit of generosity.
“Most of the items that you see on the tree are either found objects that the artist himself and his wonderful volunteers found throughout the country, as well as some of the items were donated," Yankowski said. "At the end of the holiday, all the items will be donated to less fortunate families.”
A Wider Circle, a local non-profit that works to end poverty, will distribute the toys after the tree is dismantled on January 4. The organization’s founder, Mark Bergel, says it reflects his group’s philosophy:
“I like this tree most because it’s really metaphoric for what we do in that nothing ever goes to waste," Bergel said. "We can recycle and redistribute. Most Christmas trees after December 26th have no life. This Christmas tree will have lots of life. It will create memories for people in their entire life in fact.”
Silver Spring’s non-traditional Christmas tree, a tree that keeps on giving, could be the start of a new tradition.