A Fascination with Gnomes (part 4)

“Disneyfication” is a term we’re all too familiar with in the 21st century. After all, Disney is to entertainment what Google is to the Internet. Both are inescapable in modern daily life. Therefore, it’s not surprising that gnomes also have a Disney connection. What is surprising is how far back the connection goes and its importance in both the future success of Disney and of garden gnomes. The story of the garden gnome might in fact be a historical instance of transmedia branding.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first Continue reading “A Fascination with Gnomes (part 4)”

A Fascination with Gnomes (Part 3)

In 1872, two years before Griebel founded his company, August Heissner began his own decorative ceramics business. Both were located in Gräfenroda, Thuringia. Within a few years, both men were competing fiercely to dominate in the garden gnome industry. The question of which is most responsible for the Gartenzwerge is still highly contested. Heissner’s designs, ultimately, have come to be considered the most well-known and reproduced designs worldwide. At the time, however, Griebel and Heissner were not alone; by the early 20th century, there were at least 16 manufacturers of garden gnomes in east Germany, and more in surrounding regions.

Continue reading “A Fascination with Gnomes (Part 3)”

A Fascination with Gnomes (Part 2)

My gnome research started as idle noodling, but soon I’d fallen deep down the rabbit hole. Once I’d scratched the brightly-painted surface of my subject, each succeeding layer of historical record brought me some new insight. It’s been weeks now, during which I’ve uncovered a wealth of interesting facts and implications, and there’s still no end in sight…

Continuing where I left off: the medieval origins of the modern-day garden gnome.


Paracelsus-DenkmalParacelsus (real name Theophrastus von Hohenheim, 1493/94-1541), the great physician and alchemist, claimed (quite seriously) that mythological beings existed that embodied the four earthly elements (air, fire, water, earth). Continue reading “A Fascination with Gnomes (Part 2)”

A Fascination with Gnomes (Introduction)

Here is the first installment of an ongoing series of posts about garden gnomes. 

As a cultural object, there’s a lot of about the garden gnome that deserves unpacking. Issues of ideology, class, race, gender, superstition, consumerism and aesthetics are all tightly tucked under that pointy red cap. To understand how these issues come into play, we first need to understand how it has become popular– even polemic— to decorate suburban yards with colorful and diminutive old men.


German garden gnomeWhile clay figures of dwarfs were sold by the German company Baehr and Maresch as early as 1841, a craftsman named Philipp Griebel is generally credited with popularizing the bearded fellows we’re familiar with today. Continue reading “A Fascination with Gnomes (Introduction)”