Foley artist restores the magic of downtown Christmas Village

Melanie LeCroy
Lifestyle Editor
melanie@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 11/23/22

Jessica Kinsey is a Foley local, born and raised, and has fond memories of visiting the Christmas Village in Heritage Park each holiday season.

When she was tapped to undertake its restoration and …

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Foley artist restores the magic of downtown Christmas Village

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Jessica Kinsey is a Foley local, born and raised, and has fond memories of visiting the Christmas Village in Heritage Park each holiday season.

When she was tapped to undertake its restoration and remodel in 2021, she jumped at the chance.

"I felt like this was a legacy project for me keeping that tradition and heritage alive for all children. This is something that my grandchildren will be able to see one day because they are going to be preserved, looked after and taken care of," Kinsey said.

This is not the first art project Kinsey has completed in downtown Foley. She was commissioned to paint a poppy mural on the fence that runs alongside the Foley Art Center, which she completed in the summer of 2021.

In talking with Kinsey about the Christmas Village project and the work done, it sounds more like she was a general contractor than an artist. She assessed the needs of each structure. Some just needed cleaning up and the paint refreshed. Others needed structural repairs, windows cut or a full interior and exterior paint job.

The main request from the city was for Kinsey to make the village, pint-sized buildings with varying themes inside that can be peered into this holiday season at 125 E. Laurel Ave., look cohesive. The colors across the houses clashed and looked like they had been created at different times by different people.She was curious about the age of the structures and their stories, so she called her great aunt.

"My great aunt Peggy Hesse, she used to be in charge of the whole Christmas situation in downtown Foley. She put the decorations on the tree every year and decorated the park and all that kind of stuff," Kinsey said. "I called her because someone had said the Christmas Village was from the 1960s, but she thinks it was the later 1970s when they started putting them out."

Once Kinsey began to assess each building, she noticed there were two groups. One set appeared to be older, and each building was constructed using the same old plywood and was airbrushed inside and out. She assumes they were the structures from the 1970s.

"I preserved the airbrush designs. I didn't paint over the airbrush unless it needed it. The gingerbread house needed exterior paint, so I had to paint over that, but I kept the inside," she said.

The next set of buildings were newer and built using heavy-duty wood.

"I am pretty sure they came from an ag shop at the local high school," Kinsey said. "They did a really great job and even put access doors on them with hinges to get inside. It was a lot easier than having to crawl through windows."

And crawl through windows she did while pregnant. She said she had to hurry up and finish the older structures because her belly was growing, and she was afraid she wasn't going to fit into some of them.

Kinsey also had other local artists come in at the end to help add detail.

"It was really awesome to be able to put our forces together to make them extra special and memorable. Getting to work with other artists is the icing on the cake because I just feel like we are creating magic," Kinsey said.

The remodeled structures made their debut last holiday season, but this year Kinsey was back to add more details and finish up items she didn't have time for last year.

Over the years, Kinsey has completed 10 mural projects and been a model, photographer and artist. When asked what her favorite project has been over her career, she said the Christmas Village.

"It is part of my childhood and my children now. These houses are going to be around for a long time because they are preserved and are getting maintained," Kinsey said. "They were a lot of fun because they gave me creative freedom. I didn't really have to run much by them. They just knew I had it and was going to make them look cute."

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