Although we would all love to believe that gnomes magically appear from the ground and travel to our gardens to offer their services, the truth is that they need a little help from humans. Now available in concrete, plastic, and wearing everything from leather to NCAA gear, they have come a long way from their humble beginnings in Graefenroda, Germany.
Although garden gnomes do not have a distinct beginning, their accepted region of birth is that of the town of Graefenroda in the region of Thuringia, Germany. There, one of the widely accepted fathers of the garden gnome, Philipp Griebel began producing these little creatures as ornamentation for people’s yards. Griebel was trained in porcelain making and started a small terra cotta factory where these woodland creatures were produced in 1874. Griebel is credited with creating their typical image – that of a pointy red hat, full beard, diminutive stature, and clothes usually in greens, blues, and browns. Often, if they are large enough (the typical size being around a foot) they also feature little details on the vests and shirts such as a border of flowers. Although it is not precisely known where Griebel came up with the idea for these garden ornaments, there are a couple of possibilities.
The mythical creature of the gnome had been part of folk lore in Germany for many hundreds of years, even featured in the Brothers Grimm’s collection of fairy tales. It is very possible the Griebel, being familiar with tales of these creatures of the Earth, came up with the idea on his own. However, there is another legend. Near the town of Graefenroda were several mines. The story goes that Griebel would see the miners come up from the mines every evening wearing their red hats which helped with being able to see each other while in the mine. They also had smaller statures because of the cramped and confined space of the mine. Whatever the case, Griebel probably had no idea of the enduring popularity of his little creatures when he cast the first one in 1874.
Traditionally, gnomes are hollow. This is because they are made from a cast. After the original one is designed, a mold is made. The terra cotta is then poured into the mold. After the outside hardens, the excess is poured out. They are then baked at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit until they are hardened and ready to face the elements. They are then hand-painted and ready to travel to their new homes in yards across the world!