Spending a Day with Rich Humphreys of Gnome Countryside

One of my favorite things about being part of a community of gnome enthusiasts is getting the opportunity to meet other collectors and swap stories. As a writer with an insatiable spirit of wanderlust, my travels have led me to many amazing people who inspire me to keep collecting and spreading the joy of gnomes.

This summer, I had the opportunity to meet Rich “The Gnomeman” Humphreys at the one and only Gnome Countryside, tucked away in the peaceful rolling hills of Kirkwood Pennsylvania. For 35 years, Rich has been entertaining and educating kids and adults in his “Gnomery” and enchanted forest.

Rich, a long-time diabetic who nearly lost his sight to diabetic retinopathy, created Gnome Countryside after teaching school in Alaska for 12 years. He renovated this beautiful property and interwove the stories of gnomes into his nature tours. Rich first became enchanted by gnomes on a trip to Denmark, and he even dresses like a gnome in a wonderfully eccentric fashion!

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I first learned about Rich’s mission and Gnome Countryside in 2014 under tragic circumstances. Local news sources reported that a fire devastated his 220-year-old log home, destroying his possessions, but never his spirit. He has since rebuilt his home, and it’s just as beautiful as ever.

My tour of Gnome Countryside began in the Gnomery, a cozy room filled with wonderful gnomes where Rich shared stories, environmental facts, and songs with his captive audience. Then we followed The Gnomeman through the wooded trails, using our five senses to appreciate the rugged beauty that surrounded us. Small gnomes and gnome homes could be found along the trails (if you looked closely), and they were surely very happy here. Other highlights of the visit included listening to the waterfall sounds of Gnome Gniagra, participating in a drum circle, and building gnome homes and rock towers in the woods.

Gnomes and nature go hand-in-hand, and this is a place to embrace that relationship and celebrate stewardship of the environment and a sense of community in the outdoors. Through Gnome Countryside, Rich empowers visitors to return home with a renewed love for the environment and a commitment to protect nature. Gnome Countryside celebrates the legends of gnomes, teaches us about gnomes and nature, brings your senses to life. With a creative sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye, Rich’s dedication to nature and all its creatures is contagious.

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You too can visit Gnome Countryside if you only travel to the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country! Rich is an incredibly friendly and kindhearted man who loves to chat, so give him a call at 717-786-4928. Gnome Countryside is a favorite among school group tours, but he also leads individual two-hour tours at a rate of $10 per person. Morning and afternoon tours are typically available Monday through Saturday from April through October, rain or shine.

 

***A version of this story will be published in the upcoming edition of the International Gnome Club Newsletter!***

The Antique Gnomes of Rock City – Chattanooga, Tennessee

On a recent drive from Illinois to Georgia, I made a pit stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee and decided to check out the famous attraction advertised on all the highway billboards: Rock City. Much to my delight, the nature paths and caves here are filled with gnomes!

I knew I was in for something special when the road leading up to Rock City was called “Ochs Highway.” No joke. Clearly, this place was meant for me.

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History of the Rock City Gnomes

In the late 1920s, Garnet and Frieda Carter began developing a walkable garden on their private estate to share their love for the region’s rock formations and native plants with the public.

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The husband-wife team opened Rock City Gardens during the Great Depression and had over 800 barns painted to advertise and attract tourists to Chattanooga. They gave the attraction its name because the rocks on top of Lookout Mountain looked like city buildings and the natural pathways like streets.

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Frieda Carter loved European folklore and fairytales, and she was an avid gnome collector. So naturally, many of her gnomes made it into the local attraction.

Gnomes Along the Enchanted Trail

Your gnome journey begins at the new Gnome Valley installation, which is a growing collection of whimsical space at the beginning of the Enchanted Trail.

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As you walk along the beautiful and easily accessible trail, you’ll notice even more gnomes peeking behind rocks to greet you.

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Keep an eye out for little red hats as you navigate the trail to Lover’s Leap, the 180-foot suspension bridge, Mother Goose Village, and the summit where you can see seven states on a clear day.

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Another awesome part about Rock City is that the whole place is dog friendly!

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The Gnomes of Fairyland Caverns

But by far, the best place to see gnomes is inside Fairyland Caverns, as this is home to Frieda’s collection of antique, imported German gnomes.

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Inside this cave, gnomes are situated into scenes that are illuminated by black lights.

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You instantly feel a sense of magic as you pass by the Castle of the Gnomes, Carnival of the Gnomes, the Moonshine-Brewing Gnomes, and many other displays.

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Admittedly, some of the scenes were a bit on the creepy side. But isn’t that what fairy tales are really all about anyway?

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Antique Gnome Restoration

Since the Rock City gnomes date back to the 1920s and 1930s, many of them were in desperate need of repair. Rock City’s resident art specialist, Matt Dutton, created a “Gnome Infirmary” to restore the residents to their original splendor.

Matt consults old photos to keep the gnomes’ coloring consistent, painting and repairing them as needed. He uses urethane resin and a hardener to fills his handmade molds to restore each little one’s unique personality.

The Gnome Mascot & Gift Shops

A red-hatted, white-bearded gnome named Rocky is the mascot for Rock City, and you might meet him walking around in costume! Yet no roadside attraction would be complete without a gift shop, and the one at Rock City is stocked with lots of gnomes you can take home as souvenirs.

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My souvenir of choice? A purple t-shirt that reads, “I’m a rock climbing, trail trekkin’, gnome lovin’ nature kinda girl.” I couldn’t have come up with a more perfect motto for myself!

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*A version of this story is scheduled to be published in the next issue of the International Gnome Club newsletter! 

Who’s Behind All These Gnome Homes in Parks?

As a writer and hardcore gnome enthusiast, I keep up with gnome news on a daily basis. (Just create a Google alert for “gnomes”!)

One trend that I keep seeing is “gnome homes” popping up all over the country in public parks. As we all know, gnomes and nature go hand-in-hand, so it makes perfect sense that they’d be setting up habitats in our most beautiful and scenic parks. With the assistance of creative and devoted humans, gnomes are moving into parks and sparking the imaginations of kids and adults of all ages.

Tomahawk Creek Trail – Overland Park. Kansas

Gnome homes started appearing along this trail in 2013, and their creator was recently identified as a single mother named Robyn Frampton. An Overland Park filmmaker created a documentary about her project called “The Gnomist.” It’s a story of paying it forward (one gnome home at a time) getting through a painful divorce, and connecting with nature and other people.

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Little Buffalo State Park – Newport, Pennsylvania

Sadly, this is a story of gnome homes that haven’t been well-received. A local retired couple built 39 gnome homes to encourage kids and adults to interact with the park. For fear of harming the natural environment, park management has evicted the gnomes. However, the couple insists the trail has no damage, and the park has seen tremendous increases in visitors since the gnomes appeared. You can sign a petition to keep the gnomes keep their homes and the community enjoying the magic they bring.

Glen Park – San Francisco, California

Gnomes have also taken up residence in this park along the Creeks to Peaks Trail with a sign reading “Leave for all to enjoy.” Visitors are encouraged to check out the gnome home while walking through the park and leave their own mementos behind in the community’s knotty tree stump.

Lamignomes…The Next Big Gnome Movement?

My new website is definitely still a work in progress, but I’ll give you a sneak peek into my next gnome venture: Lamignomes (i.e. laminated gnomes). Armed with custom gnome printouts, popsicle sticks, a sharpie marker, and a laminating machine, I have been creating gnomes with “talk bubbles” who have lots to say about the places I travel to. Stay tuned for an update on the Lamignomes movement in a future post!

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Have you spotted a gnome habitat growing in a park near you? Share your story (and photos!) with us, and maybe we can visit them someday too!

Songs about Gnomes & Their Curious Inspiration

With the recent passing of musical legend, David Bowie, an old song of his popped into my head the other day: “The Laughing Gnome.” To my knowledge, Bowie was never an avid gnome collector so why would he write a song about a gnome?

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In fact, I’ve often wondered why musical artists name their bands and songs after gnomes, especially when they have little to do with our beloved little friends.

Bowie’s song tells the story of walking down the street, hearing footsteps, and turning around to find a “little old man” who chuckles away all day long singing “I’m a laughing gnome and you don’t catch me!” The song was released as a single in 1967 and features a sped-up voice and several puns on the word “gnome.” It’s radically different from much of his other work and has been described as a fun children’s song, a mod anthem, and an embarrassment.

Another gnome song from an unexpected band is “The Gnome” by Pink Floyd. The song appears on their album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and tells the story of a gnome named Grimble Grumble. This little guy wore a scarlet tunic with a blue-green hood, and he had a big adventure in the great outdoors, followed by a bit of wining and dining. Sounds pretty fun, right? As far as I know, the British psychedelic rock band wasn’t into collecting gnomes either, but the song’s inspiration reportedly came random creativity and J.R.R. Tolkien’s books.

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However, David Bowie and Pink Floyd haven’t been the only musical artists to oddly embrace gnomes…even if only for a short time. For example, the album of one Australian band simply named “Gnome” was described in a review as “other-worldly, blissful, euphoric, natural, and tranquil.”

It seems that many artists identify with what gnomes represent and are drawn to express those qualities through music. It also just goes to show that you don’t have to be a gnome expert to enjoy and celebrate gnomes’ clever, fun-loving, and mischievous nature!

So allow me to introduce you to few gnome-related songs and bands to listen to and decide for yourself. No matter what type of music you’re into, you’re sure to find a gnome song you enjoy, or at least get a chuckle out of.

  • David Bowie’s “The Laughing Gnome,” – AudioLyrics
  • Pink Floyd’s “The Gnome” – AudioLyrics
  • David the Gnome Theme Song – Video
  • The Alpaca Gnomes (band from Connecticut) – Video
  • Gnome (band from Cleveland, Ohio) – Video
  • The Gnome Addicts (band from Toronto) – Video
  • UnGnomes (band from Chicago) – Audio

Do you know of any other gnome bands or gnome songs? I’d love to check ’em out, so please share with me!

***This article will appear in the next issue of the International Gnome Club newsletter. Find out what else is going on in the world of gnome news, by joining our club!***

“Gnome Hunting” with the Boden Gnome Ranger at a Lovely UK Arboretum

Still on a “gnome high” from my visit to the Gnome Reserve in the English countryside, I sat in a cheap motel in Bristol and thought about my new move.

There was one more place in England that I had dreamed of visiting… and I didn’t know when I’d be back around these parts.

About an hour and a half north of Bristol lives a magical colony of gnomes that I’ve become acquainted with through the power of the internet. The Bodenham Arboretum is located in something of a mouthful called “Wolverley, Kidderminster, Worcestershire.”

Here’s a little blurb for historical background:

A mile long drive winding through undulating countryside gently climbs to the brow of the hills to reveal a secret garden nurtured since 1973. An oasis of plantations, pools and avenues beautifully landscaped including over 3000 species of trees and shrubs from all over the world.

Bodenham is an area of outstanding landscape beauty and interest. Its 156 acres contains mature woodland, specimen trees and shrubs and two acres of pools and lakes.

So honestly, what better place could there be for gnomes to take up residence?!

Lucky for me, I’m well-connected to the ultimate Boden Gnome Guide, who just happened to be available to meet me the next morning.

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Davy is the one and only Boden Gnome Ranger. He is the faithful leader of the Boden Gnomes, which are the mystical, woodland characters  that help the farmers and the arborists with their work at Bodenham Arboretum. He and his lovely wife, Jackie, were kind enough to squeeze us into their busy day before an 86th birthday celebration with less than a day’s notice.

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I was so excited to meet spend my morning with this friendly and welcoming gnome enthusiast and meet all of his woodland gnomes. An important distinction to remember is that woodland gnomes wear green hats. It’s all those garden gnomes that wear red ones.

Much to my delight, the Ranger was in full character and costume: green vest and hat, a beard reminiscent of a mop I used to have in the kitchen, rain boots with mushrooms on them, a fishing pole with a squeaky toy fish on the end, and a gnome-carved walking stick.

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Equipped with this hiking stick and a fishing pole, we ventured into Poplar Dingle and were greeted by our first Boden Gnomes near the entrance.

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The arboretum hosts a “gnome hunt” in the summertime. And no, there are no gnomes harmed in this type of hunting of course.

The Boden Gnome Gnome Hunt – June 3rd – August 30th

This summer the ‘BodenGnomes’ will return for the whole of the Summer holidays to enable children of ‘all’ ages visiting Bodenham to join in the fun and search for the hidden Gnomes around the Arboretum.  Details and a map of the route can be found at the Visitor Centre. There will be a prize draw for all entries. Normal entry charges apply.

I spy one up there in the tree with a “G”!

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And there’s another lurking in the weeds! Both gnome statutes and wooden gnome cut-outs call the gnome trail home.They’re not too hard to spot if you’re moderately observant.

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And just when you least expect it…a Viking Gnome appears on a fence. Man, he looks fierce.

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Gnome spotting is hard work, so we stopped for a moment to sit a spell and chat about travel and gnomes. Many of the hiding gnomes were holding letters, which formed a secret word that I won’t reveal in this blog in case there aren’t plans to change it next year. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise 🙂

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Obligatory posing at the festive cardboard face cutout was a must. And now I’ve gotten a brilliant new idea to sew a mushroom skirt.

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If you’re having any difficulty imagining this magical day by just my words and photos, how about a video or two? Here are a couple gems that really give you a sense of the Boden Gnomes experience…at least to tide you over until the hunt picks up again next summer.

Whoops, caught a lil’ bugga with his pants down! Gnomes here are strapped in for protection from vandals. Gnome thieves are the WORST, and I hope they never find their way into this lovely arboretum.

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Sadly, our visit to the arboretum was coming to a close…but not before a surprise gift was presented to us through the most beautiful row of trees.

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Would you believe that the Boden Gnome Ranger is also a skilled painter? He painted me a replica of my new newly-inked ankle tattoo, a hiker gnome, which was based on my husband’s original design.

The painting looks exactly like my tat, which is amazing! It survived the journey back to the States with no damage and I hung it above my bedside table when I returned to remember this awesome day.

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You can see more of his art on the Painterman Davy T. Facebook page. Davy’s wife, Jackie is super talented too and made us a lovely gnome-themed wedding card. Check out Crafting with Jackie to see some of her stuff! Just like my dearly wedded, Jackie isn’t all that interested in gnomes, but she’s sure a damn good sport about it!

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I was disappointed to not find any gnomes in the arboretum gift shop, but it sounds like the Boden Gnome Ranger is really campaigning for more gnomes on the premises. So hopefully it’s only a matter of time before little green-hatted men start pretty much running the place.

There’s also a really cute black dog that hangs out at the arboretum that made me miss my dog sitting business back home a bit.

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After the gnome hunt with Davy and Jackie, we spent some time walking around the arboretum to admire the wide-open, natural surroundings, which used to actually be part of a farm. So with my visit to the Bodenham Arboretum, my Euro-gnome travels had come to a close. Gnome enthusiasts really are kindred spirits, and I was so glad to have met another on my international journey.

I totally admire the Boden Gnome Ranger’s creative spirit in dressing up, singing songs, and leading prospective gnome fans through the woods in search of magic and fun. I can’t wait to see what next summer (and the summers after that) bring to the arboretum and what shenanigans these green-hatted gnomes get up to throughout the year.

My Dream-Come-True Visit to Ann Atkin’s Gnome Reserve

This past June, one of my ultimate quirky travel dreams came true in the English countryside. In the midst of a three-week Eurotrip, we went well out of our way to visit the Gnome Reserve in North Devon.

Ann Atkin has been an idol of mine for many years. She holds the world record for having the most gnomes (at least 2,042) and she started the International Gnome Club, which I write newsletter articles for.

To get here from Bristol, the “roads” were more like treacherous and death-defying hedge mazes.

P1030002But a tiny sign with a friendly face finally appeared to reassure me and my wonderfully gnome-tolerant husband that we were on the right path.P1030013There’s no other way to describe this experience but euphoric. Believe it or not, this place is visited by around 25,000 people each year, and I couldn’t believe I was finally one of them.
P1030021But first order of business…a gnome hat! 
P1030328It is requested that all Gnome Reserve guests wear gnome hats while they tour the magical four-acre wonderland. You wouldn’t want to offend the gnomes with your bare, ugly head, now would you?

P1030039Ann’s collection has been featured on TV and in magazine tons of times and she’s pretty much the worldwide expert on the subject. I’m working my way up that ladder though, don’t you worry.
P1030083The reserve is a wonderful place for a casual stroll, and there’s something new and exciting to see around every corner. Lots of pointing and squealing took place, as you can imagine.
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Followed by some light fishing for stones in the gnomes’ dried-up pond.
P1030115Everyone you could want to be here was here. There were spacemen gnomes, pilot gnomes, and eating and drinking gnomes, as pictured here. Not particularly known for healthy habits, these lil’ guys were enjoying a feast of cake and wine. I can support that.
P1030145There were even a few rare racially diverse gnomes living on the property!P1030158Gnome races were taking place in another section of the reserve. I always place my bets on the one with the red hat.
P1030166And even a gnome chess tournament was taking place! Perhaps that chess board could use a little dusting off though, wouldn’t ya say?
P1030185Siegfried is the oldest gnome in the Gnome Reserve, and Ann sculpted him herself back in the late 70s!P1030196One of my all-time favorite gnome scenes here was the fishing scene. While I was only able to fish for stones earlier, these guys got real flowing water and some seriously serene scenery.
P1030220But the #1 highlight of my visit was getting to meet Ann. It was a weekday morning that we visited and not too crowded, so I was able to chat with her a while about gnomes and such.P1030227Ann is a skilled artist and sells her paintings (prices start at £5) and pixie figurines in the entrance building of the Gnome Reserve.
P1030233If all this gnoming makes you crave some refreshment, you can order sandwiches and cream teas from the Gnome Kitchen. There’s a little picnic area to hang out in for a while to savor the experience a little longer.
P1030324But there’s more! I know you’re wondering, “But HOW? How could there be any more to life than THIS?!”

Well there’s a wildflower garden here as well that Ann encouraged me to tour and view the labeled species of herbs, wildflowers, and grasses. There was even a quiz! Yep, I missed a few. This area is more nature-themed rather than gnome-themed, and full of fairies and pixies, but it was still a very lovely little activity.

P1030294Before heading back to the car and sadly leaving my new-found gnome friends behind, I browsed the gift shop for a few treasures to take back home with me. I bought four of Ann’s handmade pixies/gnomes and one of her gnome-themed paintings. And also a couple cups of locally-made ice cream to celebrate this awesome day.

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I’d been wanting to visit this gnome mecca since I first heard about it 5+ years ago and it totally lived up to the hype. I wish the nearly 80-year-old Ann all the best as she continues to take the gnome world by storm and be an inspiration for gnome lovers worldwide.

The Gnome Reserve is typically open between March 21 and October 31 between 10 am and 5 pm daily. Adult admission is £3.75, and it’s definitely worth it…even if you’re not an obsessed fanatic like me.

My Gnome-tastic Visit to Brewery Achouffe in Belgium

Several years ago while shopping at Whole Foods, I caught a glimpse of a gnome perched atop a beer tap at the grocery store’s bar. Ever since that day, I’ve been obsessed with Brasserie D’Achouffe, a gnome-themed brewery in the countryside of Belgium.

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Through my gnome writings, I’ve even gotten to know the brewery’s founder, Chris Bauweraerts via email! Well one of my gnome travel bucket-list dreams recently came true when I booked a trip to Belgium to visit Chris and these tiny gnome brewers.

My gnome-supportive husband and I rented a car in Brussels, and drove two hours to reach the brewery in the rolling hills of the Belgian Ardennes. Belgians drive on the right side of the road, not the wrong/left side like they do in the UK, so it was pretty easy to get around.

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But first, we stopped in Liege, a small Belgian town on the way. A quick TripAdvisor search told me that the top thing to do in Liege was climb the Coteaux de la Citadelle, which involves 374 stairs that lead to an awesome view of the town.

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The town of Liege has an upper level and a lower level, so we wandered the streets of both, which were connected by peaceful wooded trails. Although I only had a couple hours to spend here, I’d say it was definitely a worthwhile pit stop.

And what’s a pit stop without some sustenance?! Here’s me skeptically eating a delightful (?) lunch of canned corn and peanut butter while watching some drama go down with the local police.

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But without further delay, onward we traveled to Achouffe! The brewery location is beautiful with cutesy homes, a small lake, and gnome figures scattered all around on the walls and signs.

Chouffe 1It was a Friday afternoon and all was quiet on the gnome-front. This was fine with me, as it provided many uninterrupted photo ops with the local gnome residents.

Chouffe 2Helpful gnomes pointed us in the right direction as we explore the grounds before our scheduled tour.
Chouffe 4Reminiscent of that day back in Chicago when I “gnomed myself” at Chouffe Fest Chicago, the brewery had a perfectly-situated and oversized chair to hop into and feel as tiny as the gnome brewers themselves.

Related: The Night I Gnomed Myself – Chouffe Fest Chicago

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Standard brewery tours are in Dutch; however, our gracious guide, Lydia, took the time to translate everything in English just for us.

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We got to see the Achouffe beer-making equipment, brewing vats, and even a short film about the brewery’s history. Not surprisingly, I was captivated and enthralled during every single moment.

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Then Lydia led us to the tasting room to sample all the Chouffe specialties: the traditional blonde (La Chouffe), decadent brown(Mc Chouffe), hoppy IPA (Houblon Chouffe), and fruity summer beer (Chouffe Soleil). I must reveal that I’m a bit of a craft beer connoisseur, and even if gnomes weren’t on each label, these would still be some of my all-time favorites!

Chouffe 8I even got to play bartender for a bit! Could a full-time gig and relocation to Belgium be in my future?

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Although the staff gave us complementary glasses and postcards, I quickly found myself stocking up on gnome gear at the souvenir shop. I’m now the proud owner of a long-sleeved Chouffe bike shirt, wall plaque, key chain, and zip drive!

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But the highlight of my brewery visit was meeting and spending time with the owner and founder, Chris. I could not have asked for a more welcoming and hospitable host!

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Chris published a book, called My Chouffe Story, which details how the brewery began in 1982 and how the gnomes became such an important part of the brewing process. He gave me a signed copy of his book as a gift, a memento I will always treasure.

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Chris went out of his way to make us fall in love with the Belgian countryside, taking us to some of his favorite places in the area. We followed Chris, (in his orange shirt and orange car…a fellow fan of everything orange, like me!) to a nearby bed, breakfast & brewery, La Vieille Forge, which is known as the tiniest brewery in Belgium.

By the way, the concept of a BB&B is amazing and there should be more of these…EVERYWHERE.

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I got to meet the mastermind behind Brewery Inter-Pol and sample his two original beers, which were delicious. I really just wanted to stay at this tiny country pub for a while with the super-friendly locals and crash overnight at the B&B, but alas, all the rooms were booked for a biking event in the area. Maybe next time.

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After reluctantly leaving the tiny brew pub, Chris took a traditional kebob & fries restaurant, Friterie Au Chat l’Heureux, to fill up our stomachs after all that awesome beer.

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There were a few too many choices for my overloaded brain at this point in the brew-fueled day, but was finally able to decide on an order. Whew.

Fries are a big deal in Belgium, and although I tend to avoid the greasy specimens back in the States, I felt obliged to give ’em try on this side of the pond. I can’t deny that they were a tremendously satisfying post-beer snack. Good thing I’d been averaging 10 miles of walking per day!

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Chris knows the ins and outs of everything in the Belgian Ardennes…even the history behind an old cemetery that we stopped to check out along the road.

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In caravan-style, we spent our afternoon following him to a few of his other favorite places in the area, including a WWII site, scenic nature sites with yellow wildflowers, the production & bottling facility, and a local pub.

Chouffe19Gnome and beer enthusiasts truly are the friendliest people in the world, and I’m so happy to have hundreds of photos (literally, hundreds) to remember my gnome-tastic day forever.

Chouffe18A big thanks goes out to Chris, Isabelle, Lydia, and all the Chouffe staff for making my gnome brewery visit absolutely perfect. Cheers!

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*A version of this story is published in the current edition of the “International Gnome Club Newsletter.” Drop a line to President Liz Spera [email protected] become a member of our club and keep up with gnome enthusiasts like me!

Meet Stephen R. Feilbach: The Chainsaw-Loving, World-Traveling Dude on a Mission to Rescue Trapped Gnomes from Trees

Have you ever looked at a tree and thought, “Hey! There’s a gnome stuck in there and I should rescue him!”

Maybe not, but believe it or not, there is a guy who’s made it his life’s mission to save trapped gnomes from forces beyond their control. And he calls himself the “Gnome Dude.”

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Stephen R. Feilbach, a Kansas City, Missouri native, has been carving faces that resemble gnomes for many years.  Now he’s taken his art to an extreme level and created Gnome Nation, a liberation movement that’s taking America by storm…one beard and pointy hat at a time.

According to Stephen, gnomes began hiding in trees many years ago because people were stealing their hats (which hold magical powers, of course).

How DARE they?!

But apparently, this little self-preservation plan backfired because many of those tree-dwellers became trapped. This is where Stephen steps in and comes to the rescue.

With a little chainsaw magic of his own, Stephen frees the trapped gnomes…then he takes his rescue mission one step further. He adopts out the freed gnomes to loving homes, spreading that quirky joy that only gnomes can bring.

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Disclaimer: a re-gnoming fee may apply to fund travel expenses.

“It just keeps growing and people are contacting me from all over the world,” Stephen said. “Now I’m obsessed with releasing or saving gnomes everywhere and adopting them out.”

Gnomes (and humans obsessed with gnomes) tend to be nature lovers and stewards of Mother Earth. So it should come as no surprise that the wood Stephen uses for his carvings is 100 percent recycled. This means no tree loses its life to allow a gnome can live! Rather, the wood is sourced from dead trees that have passed on to meet their maker.

Stephen’s gift for seeing gnomes trapped in trees and his passion for releasing them doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows him well.

“All of my life I have danced to the beat of my own drums, so most of my friends and family are not surprised by anything I do anymore.”

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So what’s next for the “Gnome Dude”?

So far, Stephen’s gnome-freeing mission has taken him to the Kansas City World Series, Davenport, St. Louis, Central Missouri, and beyond. Stephen and his gnomes have traveled from Maine to Mexico and all over the U.S. – visiting farmers’ markets, festivals, and oddball shops along the way. This summer, he’s headed to Colorado, Texas, and wherever else the wind blows as his following grows and more people discover the magic of his ingenious creations.

So what’s the best way to support Stephen’s mission and welcome one of his gnomes into your own home?

The Gnome Nation Facebook page is a great place to start, because that’s where you can get in touch with Stephen, keep up with his travels, and catch him on the road. He’s been known to leave rescued gnomes behind in shops across the country and update the page with posts to point potential adopters in the right direction.

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Adoption fees start at about $125 for an 18-inch original carved gnome and $500 to $2,000 for a 3-to-5 foot gnome.  Stephen has also made gnomes that soar to over 10 feet tall! You can hire him for custom chainsaw carvings and live entertainment, and he’s even starting to create some gnome paintings on the side.

At the time this article was written, Stephen had freed over 30 gnomes, but was well on his way to reaching his end-of-the-year goal of 100. He does all the carving and painting himself by-hand, but thrives upon the inspiration of people that he meets on the road.

“I’ve always loved taking people’s ideas and making them real,” Stephen shared.

Gnome enthusiasts and artists, like Stephen, are part of a steadily growing international niche community that I, for one, and proud to be a part of.

When asked about the biggest challenge posed by freeing gnomes from trees, this was the Gnome Dude’s top complaint:

“They won’t stop moving before they’re finished!”

To learn more about Stephen’s art, his mission, or just to have a casual chat about gnomes, check out his website or reach out to him directly at 573-418-0765 and [email protected].

 

About the Author: Alyssa is an Atlanta-based freelancer and gnome fanatic who writes for the International Gnome Club and manages a team of gnome bloggers at The Drunk Gnome. This year, Alyssa’s epic travels will take her to the UK and Belgium to visit The Gnome Reserve and the gnome-themed brewery, Brasserie d’Achouffe.

Gnomeville: A Local Legend in Olney, Illinois

I was born in a small town in the middle of nowhere that you’ve probably never heard of.It goes by the name of Olney: population 9,108.

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To outsiders, Olney is really only known for one thing: white squirrels. There are a couple different theories about how these albino creatures found their way to southern Illinois, but they’ve emerged as a mascot for this working class town.

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But more recently, Olney has become known for something else…something that I personally take more interest in than any sort of pale-skinned rodent. A small community of gnomes has appeared along the west side of Illinois Route 130, just south of the Richland Country Club. After a seven-year hiatus, I finally made it back to my hometown to pay them a visit.

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You know you’ve arrived when you reach the sign marked “Gnomeville,” but you might just miss it if you blink. Over the winter holiday season, I convinced my fiancée and my parents to pull to the side of the highway so I could meet these gnomes for myself. I once called this place home and now they do, so clearly we had a lot in common.

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Olney’s Gnomeville has been around for a couple years now, and Cathy Fehrenbacher, who lives across from the highway display, has served as the unofficial caretaker for the gnome village.

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“It just kind of kept growing,” Cathy said. “It’s kind of stood on its own. It’s a group effort.”

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But unfortunately, the gnomes here are starting to look a bit weathered and are in desperate need of some tender loving care. I’m currently living in Atlanta, but if I only lived closer, I’d surely take them under my wing. Hopefully someone local will lend them a helping hand and keep the quaint and quirky tradition alive. This is a place where gnomes, albino squirrels, and my relatives can all coexist in peaceful harmony. And I look forward to paying them (gnomes, squirrels, and relatives) a visit next time I’m back home.

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Have you encountered any pop-up gnome communities where you live or have recently traveled? Keep an eye out, because these little guys and gals tend to settle in some of the most unexpected places!

Gnome Man’s Land: A California Fantasy Land 40 Years in the Making

Imagine walking into the backyard of an unassuming single family home, only to find thousands of pairs of beady little eyes peering out at you beneath pointy red hats. 1 No, this isn’t the setup for some creepy B-horror film; it’s a dream-come-true for every hardcore gnome collector. This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Gnome Man’s Land, an elaborate gnome home and garden in Santa Rosa, California. 2 Now this is no fly-by-night gnome collection tucked away in the bowels of obscurity. Oh, no no. This is a gnomish fantasy land nearly 40 years in the making, operated by my good friend and personal idol, Jean Fenstermaker. 4 Jean was inspired to create Gnome Man’s Land in the 1960s after a few key life events: her Disneyland storybook canal ride, her mother’s rock garden, and her friend who had two gnomes on an office desk. Jean’s first gnome garden was born on January 25, 1976 and spanned just 18 inches by 35 inches in size. From the very beginning, Jean loved to create mini-themes within her garden and stories about her gnomes. With some plant clippings from her mother and tiny bridges and accessories built by her woodworking father, her gnomes’ stories began coming to life. 3 Over the years, Jean has created eight additional and separate gnome gardens in her backyard. There’s The Forest Rock Garden with wildlife, The Frog Garden with gnomes and amphibians co-existing in harmony, and the Life-Size Garden…which is, you guessed it, full of LIFE-SIZED GNOMES. But keep your britches on…even in real life, gnomes are still pretty tiny. 3 You can find everyone from immigrant gnomes, partially-clothed gnomes using the bathroom, gnomes with gambling habits, gnomes fighting neighbor gnomes, and vegetable-growing gnomes lurking around every corner and begging for your attention. 4 The spring and summer seasons bring local visitors, out-of-state travelers, and gnome aficionados from around the globe to Jean’s gnome home. The typical crowd comes from church groups, “red hatters,” and senior living facilities. Gnomes are pretty fragile, and I know that if I ever have kids, I’ll be keeping my gnomes safely packed away ’til they’re old enough to understand how awesome they are. 4 I personally met Jean a few years ago through the International Gnome Club, where we are both tri-annual contributing newsletter writers. For over a decade now, I’ve gotten a kick out of being part of a subculture that baffles the other 99 percent of humanity. 5 I also just need to put this out there: Jean’s husband, Jim, deserves a ton of praise and recognition. Jim has helped build the gardens, weeds the plants, prunes the roses, AND he enthusiastically socializes with random gnome fanatics wandering through his backyard. If I ever have a husband, he damned well better be as supportive of my gnome obsession as that Mr. Fenstermaker. And I’ll just leave it at that. 6 Despite Jean and Jim’s attempts at keeping a low profile, they’ve been featured in lots of newspapers – most recently the San Francisco Chronicle, which led to two subsequent radio interviews. Jean’s garden was featured in the amazing book Gnomeland by Margaret Egleton (yes, I have a copy). And TV crews have been out to her Santa Rosa home from Home & Garden TV, The Travel Channel, and ABC’s Dream Home and Collectibles. 8 Jean is one of the kindest and most welcoming human beings I’ve ever met. So much so that she made a sign (held up by a gnome, of course) welcoming my boyfriend and me to Gnome Man’s Land as soon as we pulled into the driveway.  Gnome collectors truly are kindred spirits. 9 After an extensive VIP tour of her gnome garden, Jean whipped out the Gnome Bingo cards and we settled in for some good ole’ fashioned non-monetary gambling with refreshments. Not surprisingly, each Bingo square depicted a themed section of Jean’s quirky gnome garden. 7 Much to my grumbling stomach’s delight, she offered to cook a delicious dinner to share with us to further chat about all-things-gnome and all-things-non-gnome. All of the dishes were adorned with gnomes, and there were even gnome cookies for dessert. Can you say gnome overload? I was practically hyperventilating for hours. 10 Jean has a true and unwavering passion for gnomes, and it shows so beautifully every time her eyes light up with the reflection of a red hat in the distance. She takes such pride in her home, yard, collection, and loyal following that I can’t help but admire her to the point of stealing her ideas for my own home display one day.

As I mentioned earlier, Jean and Jim like to keep a low profile. Although they are the friendliest of friendly to fellow gnome fans, they don’t exactly just open up their backyard to just anyone either.

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You just can’t be too cautious with vandals lurking in the night. I keep up with daily gnome news, and nearly every day there’s a police report filed about gnomes being maliciously stolen, broken, and vandalized!

However, if you’re ever planning a trip to the Napa Valley region of California and would like to have the BEST DAY EVER, I’m might just be able to hook you up with a Gnome Man’s Land VIP Tour.

(Restrictions and fees may apply. Kidding. Sort of.) 11 “Are there any real live gnomes in existence? If there are, I’d sure like to see one!” ~ The cautiously optimistic Jean Fenstermaker.