Crab Pot Christmas in July
Unique decorations are crafted ‘Down East’ year-roundBy Wendy Perry | Photos by Wendy Perry
Sometimes, we set out to tell a tale with a vision in mind, yet when we arrive at the destination, the story hands us a gift of something different and sends us in a direction unconsidered.
On a chilly fall day, I set out on an adventure “Down East” (east of Beaufort in Carteret County) — where doing more with materials at hand is a long tradition — on a quest to learn all about handcrafted crab pot Christmas trees.
I have seen these simple yet beautiful decorations for years, and I was curious to know more. There are dozens of stories about them and how they came to be.
Local fisherman and crab pot maker Nicky Harvey created decorative trees out of the wire traps and was granted a patent in 2004. Don Acree, owner of Fisherman Creations, has since negotiated the right to make and sell them.
More than 10,000 trees are sold each year, and they are shipped across America. From the 1½-foot to the 8-foot tree, there is a size for all. They can be enjoyed as is, or easily decorated with your favorite theme (or college colors), displayed seasonally on your deck, and used indoors or outdoors since their special coating prevents rusting.
Upon my arrival and warm welcome into the heart of the little Fisherman Creations factory in Smyrna, I was immediately fascinated at the craftsman and craftswomen, busy as bees, making the trees. And they became my story.
I introduced myself and my mission. It was almost as if they had been waiting for someone to come along and see them and their work, and share all their knowledge of how the trees come to life. (And explain to me the clicking noise I heard throughout the room!)
I found myself in a brightly lit room among this small coterie of skilled artisans doing what they do best. Multiple stations for each size tree were spaced about the room, where each lady (and gent, Mr. Danny Sparks) were making their trees with simple tools and duct tape-covered fingers — work I’m sure they could do blindfolded.
So the click-click-clicking was coming from specially made jigs as they spun around during the tree making process, the larger ones peddled by foot.
I was most curious about their taped fingertips. As it turns out, the wiring, although coated with a weatherproof PVC material, is harsh on them, so they devised their own protective coverings. While some make their fingertip “gloves” each day, others make and use for them a week at the time. Everyone takes such pride in their work, proud of the fact that there are no factory robots used in making the trees. Just a small group of tree elves, with numb and tingling fingers, making them from Labor Day right up to Christmas each year.
I got a bit tickled when I asked about music — since everyone had ear buds — and what tunes motivate them. Seems this has evolved over the years and has become more personal.
Everybody chimed in on this subject. In the past, they would have to take turns choosing the music they all worked by, an hour at a time. Not anymore. (Long-timer Mary Smith said: “There is no need to listen to country music, ever!” while some of the others begged to differ.) I was amused at the unique personalities when I asked about music, yet recognized a kindred spirit among them that seemed to make them family.
On my visit, I met most of the Fisherman Creations “family.” Marlee is the newcomer (two years in), making the 8-foot trees. There is Melody and Bonnie June, Mary, and retired couple Danny and “Doctor” Barbara Sparks, who have been making trees there since 2003. Barbara is the tree doctor, and all repairs head to her little corner hospital to be mended and returned to its owner. This could be something as simple as updating lights from incandescent to LEDs or replacing strands. Mike Wells comes in and cuts the tree pieces during the night and is usually gone by the time the others come to work. Another “old-timer,” Donna, usually comes in during the night to make her trees.
“Housemother” Julie West keeps things rolling — and they speak of her like a real mother. She sets up their work stations to start the day, keeps the snack station stocked, and sometimes makes sure they get special family meals together, funded by the sale of tree scraps.
Virtually nothing is wasted around there.
“Years ago, our 1½-foot tree was created from scraps from the 2-foot trees, adding a fun size for new buyers,” says Don. “We have little waste from our tree creations.”
Christmas in July
Interested in a locally made Crab Pot Christmas Tree? They can be purchased year-round, but from mid-to-end of July, you you can get them on sale from the factory.
About the AuthorWendy Perry, a culinary adventurist and blogger, chats about goodness around NC on her blog at WendysHomeEconomics.com.
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