When Cindy Snyder was in her 20s, she lived in the area of Newport and Laguna beaches in Southern California. "I love the sea," the Oklahoma native says.
That love followed her when she moved back to the land-locked Midwest, manifesting itself in an antiques boutique she owned several years ago in the lobby of the Eaton Hotel. It was called Sand Castles. And no matter how slow any given day was at the shop, Snyder says, she could always count on selling seashells to someone.
The ocean has also often served as the theme of her Christmas decor at home in College Hill. And this year Snyder is sharing her sand-and-surf collection with the public. She'll be setting up an under-the-sea display at Holiday Tables, an annual event at Wichita Center for the Arts that starts Thursday. The event will feature 39 tables decorated by individuals, organizations and businesses.
Now that Snyder's children are mostly grown up, she's gotten the itch to get into design work. She wanted to do a Holiday Table last year but applied too late. So she volunteered at the event, meeting as many people as she could. This year, she's not only designing her first table, she's also chairman of the tables committee for the event. There will be a ballot allowing the public to vote for their favorite table, and a place for anyone who loves to decorate to sign up to do a table next year.
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"They can do Christmas or any holiday, a hobby or a collection," Snyder said.
Snyder's table is titled "A Mermaid's Birthday Party," and many of its elements have literally come from the sea. Nautilus shells have been hot-glued to stems to serve as glassware. Sea fans serve as lacy pale-pink napkins. Sea sponges are part of a nautical bouquet on the back of every chair.
Snyder's favorite parts are vintage Fostoria Glass mermaids that were gifts from her husband. The mermaids surface above waves of clear-blue sea glass, baubles and beads as the highest element on the table.
Floating over it all is a flea-market sailing ship painted white, part of a chandelier that Snyder made for the occasion.
Her level of detail extends to edging the aqua satin tablecloth with crushed seashells and topping it with aqua tulle and then a dotted white bridal lace that reminds her of coral.
"I wanted this to look like a coral shelf," she says.
At night, a "secret" light source emanating from inside shells and milk glass and underwater makes the tableau especially magical.
"At night it really glows like something under the sea, kind of mystical," Snyder says.
When Snyder sets up the table for Christmas, she'll add more garland at the windows — blue glitter on eucalyptus-like foliage to look like seaweed.
The mermaid's birthday party is such a flexibly festive look that when told that this story would appear on Halloween Day, Snyder grinned.
It somehow seems to fit Oct. 31, too.