"So part of it was to create a legacy for him. And to express to people who he was. He was extremely important to me. I even have his picture tattooed on my forearm." Sadly, Stoecker died in 2012.
Depending on the era, Stoecker would drape his creations in tinsel, bedazzle them with chandelier crystals, or hang them with colored balls.
"The last one he did, I think it was the mid-'80s or so, it had glass bulbs and chandelier crystals and all sorts of garlands," Bliss says. With a light placed underneath, the ornaments sparkled and the rings glowed. "He always had it up, and each year he tried different stuff. Some of it looked cool, and some looked kind of odd, but it always fit the time."
"When he and my grandmother moved into a retirement community eight years ago, my grandfather gave me the tree, because he knew how much it meant to me." Bliss says. "I put it up for maybe four years before I got the idea to update it and pay tribute to him."
Bliss launched his website in 2011, selling 40 trees his first year. "Last year I sold 100, and that was just through Google searches. I didn't even advertise. I did some custom trees for the Disneyland hotel. I even did a tree for the Red Bull corporate office.
"People seem to be drawn to the tree, especially those who live in mid-century modern homes or high-rise modern lofts and condos."
Stoecker's first model, made of industrial-strength cardboard, stood on a pole. Later, he tried different materials and designs, settling on the hanging model that Bliss recreated. "I think it was in the '70s that he tried out plexiglass. That design isn't too dissimilar to the one we have today."
Bliss's modern version does a few things differently from the Stoecker original. The new design is simpler, letting the light and rings dominate rather than the ornaments and garland, Bliss says. And it's narrower.
While Stoecker built each tree by hand, cutting out the rings and hanging ornaments individually, Bliss has modernized the process. "I found a factory here in Colorado that makes them with a C&C laser machine. Now they can make a tree in 12 to 13 minutes," he says. Bliss also brought in an engineer friend with a knack for computer-aided design to help speed up the drilling process.
Stoecker used green acrylic for his tree, but today Bliss offers several colors, including red, blue, green, clear, and white. He's now working on a half-tree model that can hang against a wall, and he's developing modernist skirts, tree toppers, and ornaments to accompany his creations.