Creating Villages

Over forty years ago, Department 56 began as part of Bachman’s, a premiere retail florist in Minneapolis. Bachman’s used a numbering system to identify each of its departments. The number assigned to wholesale gift imports division was, you guessed it, 56. Now headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Department 56 has become a leader in the giftware, collectibles and holiday decorating industry and is best known for our hand-crafted lighted villages, Snowbabies™ figurines and extensive lines of holiday and home decorative products.Have you ever wondered how your favorite holiday accessories are created? The process that goes into creating our Village pieces is an intricate one but can be broken down into 7 key steps.

1. Ideation meeting: Each season our brand managers and artists sit down to discuss what Village pieces to create. First, they review what pieces have been created in the past and how our customers received them. Second, they review if any pieces have . Finally, they discuss suggestions given by our collectors and customers.

2. Sketching + Drafts: After the concepts are decided on the Village artists get to work! This entails creating detailed sketches of all four views as well as a top view.

3. Creation of a paper model: The details from the sketches are then created into an actual paper model. It will be done to scale so that it can be placed and compared to past Village pieces.

4. Sculpting: Our Department 56 sculptor, Kiri, then begins making a wax model. When the wax models are created it is taken into consideration that the pieces will shrink in size during the firing process. This means that our Heritage Village pieces are first sculpted 14% larger and our Snow Village pieces are sculpted 5% larger than how they will actually come out once produced.

5. Molds Produced: A factory then produces the molds, casts, and fires the pieces.

6. Samples sent for approval: The creations are then sent to Department 56 for approval. If a piece is licensed, it will also be sent to the liscensor for their stamp of approval. This is when any paint touch-ups or detail changes will be made.

7. Production: After approval from all parties the Village pieces are then put into production!

Are you interested in learning more about how our artists created some of the 2017 Village pieces? Join some of the Department 56 Village Artists on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at 3pm CST for a round table discussion about some of our 2017 mid-year pieces.

Ever wanted to know what goes into creating some of the pieces? Now is your chance! Make sure to post any questions you have for our Village artists in our Facebook eventTake some time to check out our last Facebook Live event below! 

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  • Bonnie Cernosek

    May 9, 2017 at 10:00 am Reply

    D56 keeps remaking pieces, why not produce different pieces. For example an opera house, wig shop for Dickens village.
    Also how about a new village Route 66, take a look at some of those buildings and roadside attractions.

    • Ms. Lit Town

      July 19, 2017 at 10:53 am Reply

      Thanks for the comments. We always appreciate it.

  • Gina casmirri

    July 29, 2017 at 8:46 am Reply

    Not sure if this is ok if not remove it. Recently my grandmother has been moved into a retirement village. The house was way to big for her to stay in only to be able to display her dept 56 collections. My grandmother has traveled near and far to buy retired or missing pieces to her collections. Sadly after a lifetime of effort and displays her new home can not house them and due to the size of her collection our house is not near big enough to display them correctly let alone build a city as she has done for so long. I have been posting and researching close to a yr for collectors of her stature, and I’ve come up with the new buyer looking for the big money piece that would ruin the complete city if sold separate. Now I was trying to sell them to complete what I am calling” grandmoms bucket list”. Everything she wanted to do and see before Dept 56 Found her with sales from her dept 56. As obsurd as we thought the collection was getting she always knew one day retirement would come from them so she kept searching and buying. At this time I have compiled a list. Sets in their entirety including accessories, figurines, brick roads, lamp post, etc etc she has xmas in the city complete collection x2(most items x3). One set unopened wrapped in original plastic. 1 set open for display but re packed with tag bag and foam intact. Dickens village complete set same as above x2. Heritage village complete x3 ( 2 sets open and repacked in original package with bag and tag) 1 unopened. Original snow village complete x2. New England complete but only one set and was opened all original packing in tact. North Pole complete x2 one open one unopened. There are multiples of multiples in landmark, skating ponds and anything labeled limited or retired between 1980 and 2015. I was curious obviously if you had any advice on selling and second I would love to open a retailer account without becoming a retailer generally to avoid removing anything from its original package for photos. Also I have a spreadsheet of her collections with item number, how many of each piece and weather it was opened or still sealed. I just want to respect them as much as she or the bucket list end of it will not bring her joy if I’m left with random eBay goers she will be happier with them never seeing the light of day then someone considering it just another chachki.

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