The Christmas village Patti Malloy has set up in the living room of her Payson home is an artistic achievement of time and patience.
But there's more to this shimmering, snow-covered wonderland of miniature shops, churches, houses, people, trees and animals than meets the eye. In fact, it stands in Malloy's home as a tribute to her good friend Jan Williams.
She and Williams were best friends for 13 years, a relationship that began in the Valley and ended when Williams died in February 1999 while awaiting a heart transplant at Tucson Medical Center. She was 45.
Williams, who lived in Pine and was director of Social Services at Payson Care Center, collected and painted the figures in the village over a period of 25 years, beginning back when she was in college. The result of her commitment and her artistry is so extensive that it occupies three large tables and about a third of Malloy's living room.
Since it was assembled over such an extended period of time, many of the pieces in the village are irreplaceable.
"A lot of these buildings they don't even make anymore," Malloy said. "The plaster companies run them for a while, and then they change to something else."
The village, which includes replicas of the one-room Strawberry Schoolhouse and the Pine Library, takes all of two days to set up. To make room for it, Malloy has crammed her furniture and other furnishings into the other two-thirds of the room.
Last Christmas, however, Malloy left the village packed in the three trunks and various boxes it is stored in during the off-season.
"Her passing away was just too hard on us last year," she said. "We just couldn't bring ourselves to put it up."
But this year, the village is once again aglow with hundreds of twinkling lights reflecting off the snow.
Malloy and Williams met at work.
"We were both in respiratory therapy in the Valley," Malloy said. "When I first met her we discovered we had two things in common our love of Christmas and painting."
While their careers went in different directions Malloy is now in real estate their friendship grew. "We were just like sisters," she said.
Williams moved to the Rim country first, "and then she talked me into coming up here," Malloy said.
"Jan was such an outdoors person. She worked with the Girl Scouts, and she just loved the snow and the woods. And I'm from Chicago, so I like the snow, too," Malloy said.
Relocated to the Rim country, the close relationship they had formed in the Valley flourished once more and so did the Christmas village. "There are so many memories in there, so many pieces we bought together," Malloy said.
As she takes visitors on a tour down the village's Main Street and out into the countryside, Malloy points out Williams' meticulous attention to the smallest details, including tiny toys carefully painted in the toy store window, a replica of the house she grew up in right down to the house numbers and an elaborate nativity scene tucked inside a gazebo. "
Malloy's dining room table is filled with various figurines she herself is painting for Christmas gifts, but she doesn't plan to expand the village. "Jan never considered it finished," Malloy said. "There was always another house, another tree.
"But I couldn't add to it, because this is something she did. I do have a couple pieces she bought, and I might finish those, but that would be it."
The village is proving a popular addition to the Malloy household this Christmas. Besides friends and neighbors, she has 15 grandchildren who, she said, are mesmerized by it.
But what goes up must come down, and Malloy expects to spend another two days carefully packing the cherished pieces away. "I'm thinking about waiting until the end of January," she said.
But now that she has brought herself to putting up the village, her tribute to her good friend will be an annual event. "I'll put it up every year as long as I'm able," she said.