If you find yourself somewhere in Europe and happen to be staring at statuettes that look like mini versions of small dwarfs with pointy hats on rich lawns, then you might be looking at garden gnomes. Below is a brief history of the garden gnomes.
Meaning of their name
The word ‘gnome’ is said to have been derived from the Greek term genomos, which means earth dweller. This meaning perfectly explains why people came to believe that gnomes live in caves and underground.
Other names of gnomes include bargegazi and nain, both meaning dwarf and in some cases frozen beard.
In some myths, it was believed that gnomes came from the North Pole or Siberia.
Priapus was a fertility deity of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the deity of fertility. He was one who protected gardening and viniculture. Statuettes of this deity were found in Gardens in ancient Rome. Gnomes in relation to creatures with magic were initially represented in words by Paracelsus, an alchemist from Switzerland, in the era of Renaissance as “diminutive figures, two spans in height who did not like to mix with humans”. This was an era where “grotesques”, statuettes about a meter in height, made from stone were coated in flashy paint and usually found in rich people’s gardens. “Gobbi”, an Italian word which translates to “hunchback” in English, was one of the depicted forms. Twenty-one varieties of the “Gobbi” were developed by French draftsman and baroque printmaker Jacques Callot and later published in the year 1616.
Garden Gnomes before the 20th Century
Wooden and porcelain statuettes resembling gnomes called “gnomes” became common decorates in homes, in the later periods of the 18th century. The making of home dwarfs made of wood was known to have been manufactured by the region of Brienz, in Switzerland. People in Germany were convinced the “little folk” (garden statuettes) played a huge role in the success of their farms and mines due to their customs and superstitious notions. The company Baehr and Maresch, which was located in the southeastern part of Germany, was into the manufacture of garden gnomes (made from ceramic) beginning around 1841. It is believed that they were the first manufacturers of these statues.
The dwarf statues were widespread from regions in Saxony and Thuringia, also spreading through to the Germans and the French in less than a decade. Sir Charles Isham (1809-1903) took to Britain 21 German-produced terra cotta gnomes made by Philip Griebel in 1847. Isham took them home to Lamport Hall located in Northamptonshire and placed them in his garden. The only gnome to still exist from Isham’s first collection is the gnome dubbed “Lampy”. It is on exhibition at the Lamport Hall.
Garden gnomes became a lot more popular after Friar Park located at Henley-on-Thames was opened to the public by Sir Frank Crisp. Crisp was in possession of the second largest number of garden gnomes in the United Kingdom at the time. The park was accessible to the world until Crisp passed away in 1919. The public had access to the park at least a day in a week. Tourists from all around the globe came to the park to see the garden gnomes for themselves.
After the First World War, the fondness for German gnomes reduced. It was only in the 1930s that it became popular again. This was at the time Disney released their animated movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. One of the major manufacturers at the time was Tom Major-Ball who owned the company Major’s Garden Ornaments. Industries suffered again during and after the Second World War. A lot of the manufacturers of the gnome statuettes had to shut down their businesses.
In the 1970s, the interest in gnome statuettes was revitalized. A lot more of the funny-looking variety of the gnomes were manufactured. Pranking with garden gnomes and gnomes for traveling also became popular. Some of these pranks even appeared in the news. There were common pranks like the ones where someone robs another of their garden gnomes and sends photographs to the owner, then later returns them.
Abilities and features
The most common depiction of gnomes see them with white beards and a hunchback. Atop their head is often a red pointy hat, which is believed to protect them from danger.
Paracelsus, the 16th-century Swiss alchemist, stated that gnomes in general have an extraordinary ability to move through the earth at very fast pace. They navigate through rocks and earth almost like the way a fish moves through the water.
Gnomes thrive in places where there is enough food and a little bit of darkness.
Gnomes in general are said to have the power to protect and offer good luck. They are also praised in the myths as very hardworking creatures who sometimes don’t shy away from being playful or in some cases mischievous.
Basically, they are used to protect the homes, gardens, and treasures.
They are said to be the protectors of the earth and all the riches beneath the earth.
Where do Gnomes live?
In many myths across Europe, it was believed that the gnomes live in hidden caves and underground structures. They are known for living indoors, as they have a slight disliking for humans, who they consider as wasteful and destructive.
How tall are gnomes?
The heights of gnomes range from culture to culture. Averagely they range between one to two feet. Thus they are often smaller than elves and dwarfs.
Why the red pointed hats?
Gnomes are particularly depicted with red pointed hats. It’s been said that they receive the hats at the time of their birth.
According to myths, those red hats serve as protective helmets, keeping them safe from falling debris in the cave. Many historians believe that the red hats were derived from the hats of miners of southern Germany.
Facts about Garden Gnomes
- Garden gnomes are just one of the many varieties of gnomes in general. According to Wil Huygen (1922-2009), the Dutch author of the 1977 book Gnomes, there are house gnomes, farm gnomes, dune gnomes, and Siberian gnomes.
- Though varieties of garden gnomes exist, the most common one is the male gnome with a white beard wearing a red hat. The female gnomes are believed to stay underground and take care of the home and the young ones. They are also believed to prepare herbal medicines during the night.
- Sir Frank Crisp had in his possession the second largest number of garden gnomes in the United Kingdom as of the time he debuted Friar Park located in Henley-on-Thames.
- As of 2015, Dan Throne mentioned Ann Atkin of the United Kingdom had 2,042 garden gnomes. Ann holds the Guinness World record for having the largest collection of garden gnomes.
- The Canadian, Ron Hale had the biggest garden gnome. It was built in 1998 but no longer exists. It had a height of 25 feet and 11 inches.
- Jokes involving garden gnomes became widespread. Some of these jokes even ended up on the news.
- Once the First World War ended, the interest for German gnomes reduced. However, in the 1930s the interest began to rise again, at the time Disney aired their new movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. At this time, a lot more salaried workers had incomes enough to purchase them.
- The only gnome that still exists from Isham’s first collection was dubbed “Lampy”. It is on exhibition at the Lamport Hall and was insured for a million Pound sterling as of 1997. Sir Isham’s garden gnome Lampy is also considered the oldest in the world.
- According to Telegraph Germany has over 25 million garden gnomes.
- People in Germany believed the “little folk” (garden statuettes) helped in their farms and mines due to their customs and superstitious notions.
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