A puzzling approach to Christmas decor

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 18, 2012 - 1:49 PM

A couple's Christmas-puzzle gift ritual inspired their decorations.

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Patti Tannuzzo's favorite puzzle, "Letter to Santa," holds a place of honor above the sofa table. Her husband, Tom, started the puzzle-giving tradition years ago.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Patti Tannuzzo loves working puzzles. So much so that a few years after they married, her husband, Tom, gave her a gigantic Christmas-themed jigsaw as a holiday gift. The following year, he gave her another.

"It was no big deal at first," Patti said. She'd work the puzzle in the weeks after Christmas. "It's relaxing," she said. "I like brain-type puzzles," the more pieces the better.

Sometimes their three kids helped Mom complete her annual puzzle. "They'd come by, put a piece in," Tom said. He discovered "family puzzles," with small pieces at the top for the adults and bigger pieces at the bottom for the kids.

The puzzles kept coming, every Christmas, and they were always interesting: Some were comical or whimsical, but others were beautiful works of art, albeit art cut into tiny cardboard pieces. One puzzle, a Christmas tree, even came wired with tiny twinkling lights.

"He's very selective about what he chooses," said Patti.

"It's got to catch my eye," Tom explained.

'Such a waste'

Several years into this holiday-gift ritual, Tom thought it would be a good idea to display some of the prettier puzzles. "It's such a waste to do them, then throw them in a box," he said. So he mounted them on cardboard, using Elmer's glue, then built frames so they could be hung like pictures.

Patti liked the idea, and started incorporating the puzzles into their holiday decorating.

Now, every holiday season, the Tannuzzos' Plymouth home becomes a gallery of Christmas puzzles displayed all over the house. "We hang them wherever we have other pictures the rest of the year," Patti said.

A new ritual

Hanging the puzzles has become its own holiday ritual: Every year, the newest puzzle gets the place of honor, in the living room above the sofa table. Patti's favorite puzzle, "Letter to Santa," has a prominent spot in the family room. "The girl looks identical to my niece," she said.

That was also the most difficult puzzle to assemble, because of the girl's black skirt. "You wouldn't believe, so many shades of black," Patti said.

And puzzles with a sports angle are displayed in their lower-level family room, which has a sports theme.

"It takes a full weekend to hang them all," Patti said.

The Tannuzzos always hang their puzzles the weekend after Thanksgiving, and keep them up for a week or two after Christmas.

During the couple's annual holiday party for their neighbors, "They walk through like it's a museum," checking out all the puzzles, Tom said. "But it's not fine art; it's fun art."

The artwork they take down to make room for the puzzles isn't fine art, either, Patti added; they store their rotating art collection under beds.

The Tannuzzos' kids are now grown, and their grandchildren have learned not to mess with whatever puzzle Patti has in progress, she said.

That's not to say there haven't been some puzzle mishaps. Their black Lab, Pepper, who died last year, once chewed a piece out of one. Fortunately, Patti was able to find another on eBay.

She lost a piece for another puzzle, and wrote to the manufacturer, which responded by sending her a whole new puzzle. "Good thing, because the puzzle they sent was cut differently," she said. "Same picture, but the pieces didn't match."

Over the years, Patti has fine-tuned her puzzle-working strategy. "I always do the border first, the pieces with flat edges. Then I sort them by color, and then I start to do nuances."

Some puzzle purists refuse to look at the picture on the box when working the puzzle, but Patti isn't one of them. "Forget that!" she said. "I want it to be challenging, but not impossible."

She has no idea what her puzzles might be worth as collectibles. "I don't know if they have value," she said. "But they have value to me."

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

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