20th century developments in fabrication, such as plastics, play a key role in the history of the garden gnome. Technological progress, ever the bull in the china shop of society, definitely altered the trajectory of these pointy-hatted denizens.
Synthetic materials, like bakelite, made the manufacturing of objects much easier in the early 20th century. Over time, the use of plastics in manufacturing became essential to turning out consumer goods in mass quantities. The mass production of garden ornaments, particularly in America, took off in the post-war years. This was the era of pop-art and, for a few glorious years, kitsch was King. Continue reading “A Fascination with Gnomes (Part 5)”
“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.
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.
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 (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)”
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.