A Gnome With a Home

The first garden gnomes were made in Grafenroda, a German town known for its ceramics, in Thuringia, Germany in the mid-1800s. It was called “der Gartenzwerg” and made of clay. Their first recorded appearance in England was around 1840 at the estate of Sir Charles Isham, the 10th Baronet of Lamport Hall. He had a great love of rock gardens, so he built an enormous one and covered it with little porcelain figures – the first garden gnomes, as we know them.

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Philip Griebel and August Heissner were two of the first individuals to produce these figurines in quantity. Philip made terracotta animals as decorations and produced garden gnomes based on local myths. By doing this, people could enjoy the stories of gnomes’ willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany into France and wherever gardening was a serious hobby. Currently, there are an estimated 25 million of them in Germany alone. These little creatures have always been considered more than mere decorations. In fact, it is considered good luck to place one in the home and garden ceramic smoking pipes.

With the onset of World War II, all of the German gnome manufacturers disappeared as their workshops and factories were taken over and used for other purposes by the military. Around the early 60s, several companies sprang up producing plastic garden gnomes that were much easier and cost effective to make.

Traditional garden gnomes are made from terracotta clay slurry which is poured into molds. The statue is removed from the mold, allowed to dry, and finally fired in a kiln until it has hardened. The last step is, of course, for them to be painted with great detail and sent to the stores to be sold to customers. Modern day garden gnomes are often made from schwau resins or similar materials.

Today, garden gnomes are thought of as being small (typically male), bearded, wearing pointed conical (usually red) hats, colorful waistcoats and are known to smoke pipes. They live in natural areas close to the Earth and care for wildlife. Some were thought of as being tiny miners. These figurines are made in a variety of poses as they pursue various activities such as fishing, often napping, and gardening, etc.

Despite their aristocratic origins, garden gnomes have trickled down the fashion scale until they ended up on suburban lawns often made of concrete and plastic. These little statues have come full circle and have firmly established their spot in many homes and gardens around the globe. However, they are often the target of pranks, know as gnoming, and the practice of stealing them has become known as “Gnome Hunting”. People involved with such pranks obviously won’t be blessed with the good luck of a gnome.

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