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Radio Chipstone: 'Evergleam Trees'

Should you find yourself strolling along the Capitol Square in Madison, you may notice something shiny on North Carroll Street. It's not space ships catching your eye, rather, it’s a series of aluminum Christmas Trees lighting up the night. The trees were produced from the 1960's until the late ‘70s by the Aluminum Speciality Company in Manitowoc. During that time, thousands of “Evergleam Trees” found their way into American homes. 

But the fascination didn't end when the company stopped producing the trees. With internet sites like Pinterest, Ebay and Etsy, enthusiasts continue to collect and share their love by posting photos of the silver, blue, pink, and green faux trees. But there is something in the literal background that has become nearly impossible to find.

The Wisconsin Historical Society is now showing the exhibit Ever Gleaming: The Enduring Love Affair with the Aluminum Christmas Tree. The exhibit hosts aluminum trees of all shapes and sizes.

Joe Kapler is the Curator of Cultural History for the Historical Society, he explains that the trees are showcased in a space meant to emulate a 1960's living room. "These are vintage 1960's sofa end table chairs," he says. "We invite people to plunk down, take their photo. Not just for selfies but office groups come by to take their photo here."

"There's also a 'hands-on' tree," says Kapler, "one that the museum acquired for people to touch and feel. [We want people to ask] 'What are those branches? What is aluminum foil chaff? What does it feel like? What is it like to take one out of the trunk and back in?'"

"Some of these are amazingly spectacular and bright trees for being 60-some years old," he adds.

Credit Gianofer Fields
(L to R) Don Vasa, Shelly Torkelson, Matt Neff at the Wisconsin Historical Society exhibit


Material culture contributor Gianofer Fields curates the Radio Chipstone series. The project is funded by the Chipstone Foundation, a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.