Home & Garden

gnome house?

Kitsch is defined by several dictionaries as relating to poor quality or flashy art objects that appeal to the “poor” taste. But in the garden, kitsch classifies popular or commercial art that is viewed condescendingly by some, and derisively by others. It is this irony (these things are so bad they are good) that has made items like pink flamingos and garden dwarves more popular in recent years.

Garden dwarfs have always been popular in Europe, especially in Central European countries such as Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. In fact, the city of Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic declared that 2004 would be the year of the gnome.

The worldwide popularity of these dwarf creatures was boosted after the release of the French film Amelie in 2001. The main character of this film, frustrated by her father’s refusal to travel in his retirement, kidnaps his garden gnome and sends him around the world with a hostess friend.

But where did these garden creatures come from? The word “gnome” comes from the same root as the verb “to know.”

The statues are believed to have been named by Paracelsus, a physician and alchemist from the 16th century. Paracelsus composed a theory on the elements which included the belief that gnomes had occult knowledge of the Earth.

From this theory sprang folk tales that established a mythical society of gnomes. People said that the statues express greetings, farewells and happiness by rubbing their noses. They developed stories of the creatures living up to 400 years old, with male gnomes graying very early in life and indulging in pipe smoking.

Gnomes were divided according to folklore into different types, and the house gnome and garden elf were the most represented. People believed the gnomes were good luck charms, and a symbol that the forces of nature were on their side. In parts of Europe, garden gnomes were, and still are, considered symbols of success.

Gnomes have captured the popular imagination so much that in July 2003 Australia had its “Take your garden gnome to work” day, and more recently the BBC urged listeners to seek out “gnome-filled” gardens in central England. Although the BBC disclaimed not to take the risk because they “believe (the statues) are still a potential source of harm” carries with it folklore mythology.

In addition, several gnome “liberation” groups claim to free gnomes from enslavement in parks across America and Europe.

According to legend, home and garden dwarves help out with chores, such as sweeping the land or farming. This is why many gnomes carry hammers, axes, shovels, or push wheelbarrows.

Many contemporary statues depict the figurines sunbathing, swinging and relaxing. Many contemporary artists have specialized in creating and painting statues, and many people are avid collectors. Others chose to opt out of the gnome movement, based on the mythical association of spirits and magic.

Will there be a gnome in your garden?

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