Many thanks to Jeanne Powers for this review!
Gnomeland: An Introduction to the Little People
First off, this is not a sequel to Gnomes by Wil Huygen, the marvelous and charming “natural history” of the shy Holland gnomes. No, this is a book about garden gnomes.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, garden gnomes seem to pop up everywhere. Travelocity even has a spokesgnome, possibly inspired by a rash of gnome-nappings a few years back, in which a person or persons would swipe a garden gnome and take photos of it in various settings, sometimes sending postcards back to the owner from the gnome to illustrate its travels.
Egleton devotes the first few pages of the book to a very brief overview of gnomes in general, noting that there are several variations and tracing the origin both gnomes and their appearance. Then she delves specifically into the evolution of the classic garden gnome.
The earliest statues of the “classic” garden gnome apparently were created in the late 19th century when a large ceramic industry met an enthusiasm for garden decoration. The early figures were more of the bearded and wizened little old man variety before morphing into bright and merry little figures, which Egleton attributes to Disney’s cute little dwarf characters from Snow White.
For me, the most interesting part of the book was about the early creators of garden gnomes. Philipp Griebel added the figure to his factory shortly after opening in 1874, causing Grafenroda, Germany to lay claim to being the birthplace of the modern gnome, though there are those who would challenge this. August Heissner apparently began creating hand-painted clay gnomes for sale around 1870.
But all of this pales beside the glorious photos of gnomes of all sorts. There are bathing beauties, politicians (there are several versions of George W. Bush), athletes, naughty gnomes, and smoking and drinking gnomes. “Mobile Joe” is a gnome with a cell phone who crashed the Chelsea Flower Show, despite the “no gnomes” rule. There are some astounding photos of “gnome gardens” with large collections. One woman took inspiration from George Harrison, who had posed with the Friar Park gnomes for two albums, and created a gnome garden in tribute to the Beatle.
Gnomes are a world-wide phenomenon: they can be found all over Europe, North and South America, and even Antarctica. Australia seems to be particularly fond of gnomes, harboring several large gnome gardens and organizations dedicated to preservation and proliferation of gnomes. “Gnomesville” in Australia has become quite the tourist attraction, despite a lack of parking and toilets.
Even if you think gnomes are tackiness personified (the book says they’ve “been restored to their rightful place of kitsch honor”) you’ll smile at some of the creative ways people have used gnomes. It may just inspire you to add a gnome or two to your own garden. Or not.
Note: this review is written by a person who has pink flamingos in the garden