garden gnomes

The Curious History and Mythology of Garden Gnomes

The History & Mythology Of Garden Gnomes is more interesting than you might think

In many neighborhoods – the world over, it’s quite common to walk past a well manicured garden and see cute little figurines commonly known as garden gnomes. Gnomes often resemble dwarf-like statues with beards and red pointy hats. 

Dwarf-like statues have been made popular by movies like Disney’s Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs which is a timeless classic – that tells the story of a beautiful young woman who hides out in a forest with seven dwarfs to escape the “Wicked Queen”.

Here is the history and mythology of garden gnomes…some mystical, and some a little strange.

Gnomes Became Popular In Germany In The 1800’s

In the mid-1,600’s some small dwarf-like statues began appearing in Europe. They weren’t like the Gnomes that appeared later, but they are considered the inspiration of what was to later become known as garden Gnomes. The Germans were where the pointed little hats and long beards became the norm and now nearly all of them have at least those two features, plus little pipes as well.

When they first started showing up in the 1800’s in Germany, they were called “Gnomen-Figuren” which translates to miniature figurines in English, which is probably how they became known as Gnomes. They were very popular in neighboring France, especially among the elite class that loved to have large gardens, decorated fully with small ponds, bird baths, figurines, small bridges, and fountains.

They often employed several full-time gardeners just to care for their huge gardens. Then the popularity spread to England where not only people with expensive gardens loved them, but many commoners bought them and placed them around their front yards for decorations and for good luck. Germany is thought to have the most of these little creatures per-capita with an estimated population of more than 25 million. However, even though they are most popular there, their production is mostly done in neighboring Poland, and more recently, in China.

What Do Gnomes Do at Night

There Are Pranksters World Wide That Steal Gnomes And Release Them Back Into The Wild

It started in France where the Gnomes are believed mythical and thought to come alive at night, and that’s when they work tirelessly in the garden where they stay. They were also believed to help protect the garden and the garden’s owners home from evil spells.

In France a secret underground group was formed called the “Garden Gnome Liberation Front” and their sole purpose was to free as many gnomes from the slavery of working in gardens every night. So they would kidnap the little statues and take them into the forests to set them free.

Other times they would take the small statues on trips, sometimes internationally, and take photos of them with various well known landmarks in the background. These photos would then be posted online for all to see. This practice is called “Gnoming” and has become more popular as  social media has made its way into every computer and iPhone.

Before Facebook, the pranksters would commonly take the photos, print them up, and then mail them to the previous owners. A lot more work than posting online for sure. These pranks became so common that they even made national news in the US several times during the 1990’s. There are Gnome parades throughout the world in various countries, you can find one near you with a simple internet search for your nearest parade.

Some Of Elite Society Look Down on Garden Gnomes

England 1847, Sir Charles Isham, the 10th Baronet of Lamport was an avid lover of Gnomes he went to great lengths to bring 21 of these terracotta figures back from Germany to decorate his rockery garden. They were an instant hit, and people came from far and wide to see his little garden friends.

However, his two daughters thought the small statues to be unfit for display in a palatial estate. So they eventually eliminated all of Sir Charles’ statutes except for one lonely guy nicknamed “Lampy” who was left in a hidden part of the garden for many decades.

At a later date he was discovered and given a crown declaring him the oldest known Gnome in the world. Then more of his friends were brought into the garden to keep him company.

Another unfortunate example of  gnome ‘haters’ are The Royal Horticultural Society of Britain. This world-renowned garden charity has banned gnomes from the Chelsea Flower Show for many years. They’ve used words like unsightly, tacky, tasteless, and unsophisticated to describe them in their literature. For lovers of these decorative ornaments, this kind of snobbery is considered equally tacky they don’t hesitate to point it out whenever they see it.

The German Origin of Garden Gnomes Made Them Very Unpopular During WWI and WWII

Due to the horrible atrocities that happened during the first and second world wars, many of them emanating from Germany, Gnomes quickly fell out of favor in most of Europe. Many people took their little statues inside and stashed them away to keep them safe from angry neighbors.

However, after the war, people began to slowly bring them back out and put them on display like before. With re-release of The Snow White movie every few years, the gnomes eventually came back into style and were popular again. Now, since the movie is available on DVD and digital format, the story of Snow White can be enjoyed by all generations.

Gnomes are also more popular now with working class people. Some of these individuals have amassed collections that range from anywhere from tens to thousands of gnomes. One of these collectors, an Austrian woman has been collecting her gnomes for over 25 years.

Garden Gnomes Are Traditionally Bearded Males

There are very few females in the genre, they are almost exclusively males, with white, thick, curly beards, and red pointed hats. Many of them have small pipes, but a few have other items they carry such as shovels, picks, axes, fishing poles, and a variety of other things.

They also come in a lot of different poses, usually relaxed, but not always. Some are laid back, while fishing, napping, or just smoking their pipes. There are lots of them that are just standing and grinning as well.

How Are Garden Gnomes Made?

Traditionally their manufacturing process is usually involving very runny clay that is poured into molds. Once it has begun to harden, the mold is stood up so that the sill runny interior can run out. Then the remaining shell is put into the kiln to be fired until very hard. After it has had a chance to cool, then it can be painted, many times by hand.

Today, a lot of the statues are made of plastics that are injection molded in huge factories. These are usually painted by machines and sold cheaply in large stores. There are also a variety of new styles coming out such as the biker model, the hunter, skateboarder, bicycle rider, and dozens of others to make gifts to match every type of popular hobby imaginable. 

What Kind of Gnome Should You Get

If you’re looking at decorating your own yard, you can find thousands of different garden gnome images online including websites like Pinterest. There you can also find just as many different ways to use the little statues in different garden poses with tiny ponds,  little bridges, tiny homes, small wishing wells, tiny donkeys, sleighs, or little fruit stands for more fun. There is no limit to the number ways you can use these garden ornaments and they are bound to become even more popular with new styles that are hitting the market.

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