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Springfield artist Susan Sommer-Luarca is one of only two people who have been invited to paint the famed Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Springfield artist Susan Sommer-Luarca is one of only two people who have been invited to paint the famed Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Painting the holidays

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Springfield artist Susan Sommer-Luarca on Dec. 14 became the second person to paint the famed Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree live, an act which she calls a great honor.

"It was about 19 degrees with a 6-degree wind chill," she said, adding that she had to make sure her supplies didn't freeze. "It was amazing to watch the tree in the early morning light and the people start trickling in.

"Before I knew it, there were massive amounts of people."

Sommer-Luarca said Rockefeller Center officials invited her to paint the tree. During the day, she was in a roped off section and had a guard watching her.

The center has only invited one other person to paint the tree live: Thomas Kinkade of Gatlinburg, Tenn.

"It's a great honor," Sommer-Luarca said. "It's a very special place, the Rockefeller Center - when you're there around this tree, you feel the history."

What Sommer-Luarca found particularly engaging was the diversity she encountered while painting.

"You see all of these people from everywhere in this one place, and they all gather around this tree," she said. "When I was painting, I heard all these different languages around me and saw all these different people of different faiths and different countries. It was just amazing."

While Sommer-Luarca wasn't paid to paint the tree, she was able to keep the three paintings she created for her private collection. The Rockefeller Center owns the rights to the images.

She is continuing to put the fine touches on the paintings here in Springfield.

Sommer-Luarca, who recently moved the Susan Sommer-Luarca Studio to a new location at 451 S. Patton Ave., has been painting professionally for about 20 years.

She has been chosen to paint many large events in her career, such as when she was selected as an official artist for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, a gig she calls one of her most important achievements.

"After that, it has just been one thing after another," Sommer-Luarca said. "I'm always proud to represent the best of the best."

Her paintings have been aired by national media outlets including NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, LA Times, LIFE and People Magazine, according to her Web site.

Locally, Sommer-Luarca is the official artist of the American Cancer Society's Cattle Baron's Ball, a fundraising gala.

Her studio is open by appointment: (417) 860-3537.

The Rockefeller Center in New York City has been erecting trees as a tradition since 1931.
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