Icons in the Village

A lot of what is produced for the Department 56 Villages is the result of research, gleaning ideas from the internet and the fertile imaginations of our Village artists. Villages like the North Pole (nobody’s actually been there), Mickey’s Merry Christmas Village, and the Grinch Village all are easy because they have no guidelines to follow. But recreating a Village that represents Main Street America in the 1950’s and 1960’s (The Original Snow Village) requires much more.

The artists at Department 56 have been designing little lighted houses in porcelain and ceramic for over 40 years and are constantly inspired by stunning examples of real architecture both here in the United States and abroad. They look at current architecture and photos of buildings that no longer exist. The new “Art in Architecture” series features a number of iconic architectural landmarks and the series was also inspired by several memorable paintings by well-known American painters.

Chrysler Building

Village Artist Tom Bates

One of the first well-known structures tackled by in-house Village artist, Tom Bates, was the Chrysler Building in New York City. Designed by architect William Van Alen in a classic art-deco style, the building featured a number of automotive inspired designs as an homage to the motor city giant for whom it was named. At a cost of $20 million, the building was opened to the public in 1930. “This was always a piece I thought would be perfect for our Christmas in the City series,” remarked Bates. “It is recognizable, has interesting characteristics and would be tall enough to stand out in any Village display.” He was delighted when opportunity came and the Village piece, made of porcelain and lighted on both the exterior and interior, became a reality.




Inspired by a 1942 painting by American artist, Edward Hopper, “Nighthawks” proved to be an interesting challenge to Department 56 artists who had to create the exterior of a building when Hopper concentrated his efforts on the interior view of the diner. Meant as an insight into urban American culture of the time, Hopper choose to look at what was going on inside rather than the architecture of the diner itself. Extensive research was done to insure that the building reflected what Hopper focused on.

American Gothic

Another classic American painting aptly titled “American Gothic” by artist, Grant Wood, is an image instantly recognized by almost everyone. Wood was an unknown painter living with his mother and sister in an apartment over a funeral home at the time, but this snapshot of Midwestern American life thrust him into the national spotlight. Wood, originally from Iowa won a bronze medal and cash prize of $300.00 for the painting at an annual exhibition at the Chicago Institute of Art in 1930. Tom Bates was also the artist who designed this piece, told us that “because the painting is so well known, it was important to be absolutely true to the original.” And because the stoic couple in the forefront of the painting were an integral part of the story, another Department 56 artist, Tate Yotter, who specializes in figure drawing, drew the figurine that is part of the set. “The couple, surprisingly, is not a couple. The farmer was a local dentist and the woman was his sister.”

When iconic American architecture of the 20th Century is discussed, the name Frank Lloyd Wright always come to mind. In a deliberate attempt to create a style that was organic and uniquely American, Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Prairie Style” is easy to distinguish. Department 56 is proud to partner with the Frank Lyoyd Wright Foundation to introduce several homes that truly reflect the vision and style of this iconic architect.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria is one of the most photographed buildings in the world. It was commissioned by King Ludwig II in the 19th century and inspired Disney when designing the castle for Sleeping Beauty at Disneyworld. Ludwig, obsessed with Richard Wagner’s operas, had many rooms designed to match the stories in some of Wagner’s works. “Because so many have visited Neuschwanstein, it was natural to add this iconic piece to our Alpine Village,” shared Village artist Tom Bates. “It was challenging to bring the look and feeling of the original to a size and scale that would work with our other Village pieces. Many drawings were done, and we tweaked the base to give the feeling of the mountaintop where the original castle is located.” It has become the centerpiece to this beloved Village.

What makes these, and other pieces so popular, is that they appeal to our dedicated Village collectors, to those who love architecture and to those who enjoy having a piece of Americana, and perhaps iconic buildings from places they live or places they have visited.

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100 Greatest Gifts of the Century

As many of you may already know, Department 56 has been in gift business since 1976 when The Original Snow Village was first introduced and since then we have developed other Villages as well as many giftware lines that are popular among our collectors. It seems like a long time to us, but there are other companies who have offered giftware a lot longer.

Recently, “Gifts and Decorative Accessories” magazine, a leader in our industry came up with a subjective list of the 100 greatest gifts of the last century – celebrating the 100 year anniversary of this retail trade magazine. We are proud to share portions of the article that names the best of the best – and we are ranked #2 with Department 56 Villages and #5 with Snowbabies.

Perhaps you will find some of your other favorites on this list as well.



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Santa’s Big Catch

Ever wonder how Santa spends his “off-season”? Like many of us, Santa does get a little down time to pursue his favorite activities – hunting, fishing, and gardening. And after all the years he’s been in this business, he’s entitled to a good long vacation!

With his busy fall and winter schedule the jolly old elf does find time to get out and enjoy a little fly casting and trout fishing at some of his favorite fishing spots. Christmas Lake in Oregon is his favorite, but he also likes Holiday Lake in Iowa and has been known to spend some time at Santa Claus Lake in Maine and Elf Lake up in Ontario, Canada.

You may not recognize him in June, July or August because he’s traded his red stocking cap for a bucket hat, and waders for his shiny black boots, and may even be seen with his feet up on the cooler. What’s inside you ask? We’re pretty sure that the missus has packed him a healthy lunch, and a few cold ones! This time Santa looks like he snagged a wrapped package and not the perch he was hoping for!


Mrs. Claus usually can talk him into a few days of R & R at the beach when the weather at the North Pole gets to be too much for them, and you’ll find Santa dipping his toes into the sand and relaxing in a surfside beach chair. 


Another activity that Santa enjoys that may surprise you is that he’s a pretty good cook! Mrs. Claus lets him into the kitchen on occasion to whips up one of his favorite deserts – chocolate mousse cake with chocolate frosting! Yum! (And you thought he got that waistline by eating carrots with Rudolph and the other reindeer!)



All of these pieces are part of the “Possible Dreams” collection of Santa figurines by Department 56. Designed by artist, Ann Dezendorf, these Santas appeal to everyone who loves Christmas, and the use of mixed media adds to the artistry and charm. This collection has been crafted with an emphasis on individuality since 1985 so no two pieces are exactly the same.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas


The movie “Nightmare Before Christmas” first released in 1993 has, over the years, acquired a huge cult following of fans of both Halloween and Christmas. Creator Tim Burton, a Burbank, California native expressed that “anytime there was Christmas or Halloween, it was great. It gave you some sort of texture all of a sudden that wasn’t there before.” It never left him.

There was always a thought in the back of his mind to expand on the dual theme.

1982 Burton, who was then-employed at Walt Disney Feature Animation, wrote a three-page poem entitled The Nightmare Before Christmas, drawing inspiration from television specials of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas. Burton intended to adapt the poem into a television special with the narration spoken by his favorite actor, Vincent Price who was known for his spooky spoken delivery. He also considered other options such as publishing the work as a children’s book. He created concept art and storyboards for the project in collaboration with Rick Heinrichs, who also sculpted character models for stop-action films and short movies. Initially, Disney thought the concept was a little too weird for their target audience.

Finally, in 1990, Burton worked out a deal with Disney to begin the project which was a huge success with the film being nominated for best Visual Effects.

Village Artist Tom Bates

In 2017, Department 56 has been granted the licensing rights to produce three-dimensional pieces from this popular movie, each hand crafted and hand painted in resin. Village artist, Tom Bates, enjoyed the project. He shared that he watched the movie with his daughter who loved the movie and” has seen it many, many times.” What he enjoyed most was watching the added features that showed how the Stop-motion photography was accomplished. “Each movement consisted of dozens and dozens of images put together to create a seamless action, and it they got it wrong, they had to start all over.”

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