By Julianne Homokay
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
Sharon McCormick is a busy woman.
In addition to running the Lake Arrowhead School of Dance and the Studio Boutique, teaching classes, serving as artistic director of the Lake Arrowhead Classical Ballet company, and directing and choreographing their production of The Nutcracker, she also contributes to the holiday decorations for Lake Arrowhead Village.
Specifically, she looks after wreaths and Santa’s Workshop.
Santa’s Workshop traditionally had been in a space that she thought had no ambience, so she wanted to switch things up. She’s always had a great relationship with the Village maintenance crew, and they’ve always been willing to help her out when needed. She asked one of them, Carlos, about the sleigh, as she hadn’t seen it for two years.
They still had it, but it had deteriorated quite a bit. She pleaded with Carlos, “Don’t get rid of it!” Santa’s chair for the workshop display was also falling apart and “those are irreplaceable, you just can’t find those anymore.”
Dawn Neuenschwander of Neu-Art Studio does McCormick’s signage and banners and, when Dawn heard about the sleigh and the Santa chair, she exclaimed, “I love repurposing things!” McCormick knew she had found the woman for the job.
The sleigh has been in Lake Arrowhead Village at Christmastime for as long as anyone can remember. But it became very weathered along the way, as it wasn’t protected from the elements. When Neuenschwander took it apart, it was rife with mold and rot; in fact, she could only salvage the bow and the seatbacks. That did not deter her, however.
It took Neuenschwander a month, but she rebuilt the rotted-out body, sandblasted the rails down to the metal and repurposed those, and put wheels on it to make it easier to move around. She salvaged Santa’s chair as well. Both are proudly on display in the Santa’s Workshop area, which is now lakeside, an innovation of McCormick’s.
The sleigh now sits in a covered courtyard that serves the dual purpose of protecting the refurbished piece and providing seating for visitors to stay and enjoy the Arrowhead Village Christmas experience.
“Now it’s functional and inviting for all our visitors,” McCormick said.
Neuenschwander owns Neu-Art Studio, which Google lists simply as a “sign shop in Rimforest, California.” This is a gross understatement. You have probably already seen Neu-Art’s creations along Route 18 and all over the mountain communities, warning you of today’s fire danger, pointing the way to the Pine Cone Festival, marking nature trails, above the doors of your favorite cafés and restaurants, or greeting you at the businesses and county buildings you might frequent. You may have won an award trophy created by Neu-Art or you might drive a truck or van at work that sports a logo on the side that she created. She also offers banners, firefighter-related products and a full range of graphic design services. Ever the joker, she says, “Yeah. We’ll put your name on stuff.”
So how did a graphic designer with a degree in commercial art become interested in refurbishing old Christmas decorations?
“I dunno,” Neuenschwander says wryly. “I’ve always remodeled my dumpy houses.”
Luckily for mountain residents and all the visitors to Lake Arrowhead Village’s Santa’s Workshop, Neuenschwander and McCormick have helped to preserve a couple of special pieces of mountain history.