PHOTO: CHRIS FLETCHER
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this holiday season, the Magic Tree has become one of Columbia’s beloved holiday traditions. The tree’s astonishing color and light would be attraction enough to draw an artist’s eye, but local artist Chris Fletcher had a more personal reason for sketching the Magic Tree: The man behind the tree’s magical transformation, Randy Fletcher, is his stepfather.
“He’s always been very supportive of me and my own interests in painting,” Chris says of Randy, who goes by “Will Treelighter” in his Magic Tree role. “His appreciation for the beauty of the tree is, of course, why he goes to the trouble of lighting every branch.”
Chris was 24 and no longer living in Columbia when Randy decorated the first Magic Tree — a crabapple at the home where Randy still lives with his wife, Bette. Not long after Chris returned to town, the Magic Tree made its move to the Village of Cherry Hill.
Although the Magic Tree was not part of Chris’ childhood, he says Randy’s love of beauty and nature was an early and lasting influence on his artistic development. The Fletchers went on lots of walks in the woods at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, The Pinnacles and other places, and those hikes remain an inspiration for his drawings and paintings.
“At first, I drew and painted the landscape directly from observation,” he says, “but even now, I find my abstract work often turns into some kind of landscape with rocks, roots and vines, which must come from those memories.”
His Magic Tree drawings — created with a Wacom Bamboo pen tablet — evolved as well. They began with a drawing of random tree branches and leaves, which Chris realized must resemble Randy’s view while wrapping branches.
“So it seemed the next logical step would be to try to depict him doing that,” Chris says.
He created two drawings with Randy on a ladder and then sketched a scene from memories “of people coming from all over to hang out underneath it, with little kids pointing and excited about seeing it.”
“I was trying to recall the reflecting of the light on the people and the ground,” he says. “I guess I don’t see the tree as just an isolated thing now. It’s also about all the people and their reactions to it.”