A Few Words with one of our Artists – Barbara Lund

Barb Lund

Each spring we ask our Village artists to share some thoughts about the designs they create. We recently spoke to Barbara Lund who has been designing the Dickens’ Village, New England Village and the North Pole Series for the last 27 years. We thought that we should share her thoughts with you.

Neilan Lund
Neilan Lund

“I believe I am coming up on my 27th year of designing Villages. That would be enough time to put a child through grad school. I suppose, in a way, I have graduated myself, from being an apprentice to my father, Neilan Lund, for so many years, into feeling completely versed in creating these buildings. In these years we have seen a great escalation in the ability of our factories to implement more challenging designs and offer greater interest to the public.”

We asked our artists, “If you could design any historical building (with no restrictions whatsoever) what would it be — and why would you choose it?”

Barbara: “I think we are all drawn to names we recognize and there are many businesses alive today that had their beginnings in the last centuries. Many goods carry the names of the families that began the company. Of course, when you want to use a licensed name, that can create some challenges so Department 56 has always played that card very carefully. But speaking of “playing,” I believe another thing we all love is music. Not long ago I researched how pianos are made as there is vast information available to us about this art — and it is an art. A friend had told me that if she could afford any piano in the world she would buy a Bosendorfer made before 1970 so I learned as much as I could about what informed her decision and it was fascinating. There are many carrying proud names today. There are also many beautiful makers who lost their race with time or technology but pianos are a thing that have touched us all.

Our collectors always want to know what your favorite new pieces for 2016 are. What can you share?

Barbara: Last summer I was putting the final touches on the third version of Little Town of Bethlehem that will be released by Department 56 as part of the company’s 40th anniversary later this year. My father drew the first after he and my mother visited the Holy Land which they deeply loved. They traveled in a less troubled time and were able to really absorb the environment and people and antiquities. I remember my mother writing a long letter about a Palestinian many they had met. She believed he was one of the most beautiful souls she had ever met traveling. Our third version of Bethlehem goes back to some of my father’s earlier inspiration and away from the more ornate offerings sold by other companies. We hope it can be a cornerstone for new families who have not yet found a nativity.

We all know that working for Department 56 allows you to combine your talents with a working profession. If you weren’t doing this what other career might you pursue?

Barbara: I have drawn Department 56 for so many years I almost can’t imagine another profession through travel holds great appeal. The world has certainly become more connected since I began this work but I  continue to believe that we can’t really understand other cultures and places until we visit them. I have been lucky to visit many wonderful places but there are so many more I’d like to understand. I think the more exposure I have to real places, the better I will become at translating what I have seen and felt into little porcelain pieces.

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Harley-Davidson Villages

The American Icon of the Open Road: Harley-Davidson.

Harley-Davidson Villages

It all started in a small 10’X15′ shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When William Harley and Davidson brothers Arthur and Walter produced and sold their first motorcycle over a century ago, we bet they had no idea their names would live on as a brand so iconic in American culture it’s become part of millions of family histories. American Classic

The Harley-Davidson Snow Village hearkens back to a simpler time, celebrating our love for roadside attractions and the Big Tin Drive-In where car hops delivered your chocolate malts car-side, or in this case bike-side. There’s nothing quite like the great American road trip both then and now.

Santa’s V-Twins

And you thought the only way Santa got around was with a team of eight reindeer and a sleigh! With plenty of room in his saddlebags for toys and gifts, he’s ready for cruising the open road and spreading Christmas joy.

The snow may be falling outside and the real bikes waiting out the winter in storage, but inside it’d toasty warm and the memories have us dreaming of spring and cruising this beautiful country.

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A Tradition of Quality Giftware for Forty Years

Department 56 Anniversary
We are pleased to be kicking off the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Department 56 as a company! Many things have happened during the course of the last 40 years, some great, some important and some that we’ve like to pack away with memories of days gone by!

We started our company literally shipping from the garage of the company’s founder, Ed Bazinet in 1976. Ed has since retired and we have seen many employees come and go. We started with just a few giftware items, and six very simple lighted buildings – four houses and two churches. These pieces were packed in simple cardboard boxes with no bottom stamps on the buildings, or printing of any kind on the packaging. Because Mr. Bazinet came from the giftware side of a local floral company (Bachman’s, Minneapolis, MN), his business contacts were in the floral industry and he called on many of them to buy his new products. That is why so many of our long time customers have been floral shops and garden centers. We have expanded both the types of stores that we sell to as well as the kinds of products we offer.

Original Snow Village
As demand for the Villages grew, so did the variety we offered. The little ceramic houses got more detailed and the painting improved. Then in 1984, a local artist who was retiring from his career as a graphic artist at a well-known Minnesota company (General Mills) came to Department 56 with an idea. His name was Neilan Lund and his idea grew out of his family’s love of a Victorian classic, “A Christmas Carol” by beloved author Charles Dickens. The Lund family enjoyed the tradition of reading the story every Christmas and Neilan had some sketches from the story that he thought would look great on note cards or tins. Ed saw the little Village designs and proposed another idea. What if these designs were expanded and used on little houses like the “snow houses” they were currently making? Neilan’s designs were more detailed so Ed and his creative team looked for another material that would allow these designs to incorporate the details from the drawings. It was decided to make the new collection, origin ally called “The Streets of Dickens’ Village” from porcelain with a matte finish to distinguish it from the snow houses. Originally the set of buildings included an inn, a candle shop, green grocer, a baker, a smithy, a butcher, and a basket shop. When reviewing the pieces, someone commented, “We have the butcher, the baker, but where’s the candlestick maker?” So Neilan quickly designed the candle shop to make the first offering seven pieces. A Village church was added the following year as well as something they called a “limited edition” – the Village Mill which was numbered and limited to 2,500 pieces. And the race was on! Collectors fell in love with the series and scoured gift shops to find the illusive lit Village.

Dickens Original Group
What started as a retirement project blossomed into a full-time second career for Neilan. He gradually brought members of his family into the project helping with research and design. In 1989 the work load grew to include not only Dickens’ Village (the name changed in the second year of production), but Alpine Village, New England Village, North Pole and Little Town of Bethlehem. He brought one in of his three daughters, the very talented Barbara Lund into his studio to learn the art of designing the houses. While we have lost Neilan, Barbara is now the principal designer of these Villages.

Another of our most popular lines started in 1986, when a young talented artist who had worked for several years as a freelance designer for Department 56 creating giftware packaging designs, and designing Snow Village accessories, was hired to create a series of porcelain figurines. These snowy children, named “Snowbabies” by Department 56 were inspired by antique figurines from Germany and Japan found by one of our creative directors in an antique shop.

That artist was Kristi Jensen Pierro who has taken this collection and expanded it to one of our most beloved series. Kristi was also the creative force behind many giftware collections including Winter Silhouettes, All Through The House, Merry Makers, Billy Buttons and Snowpinions.

To keep pace with the expanding interests of our collectors, Department 56 has included many licensed designs in the last 20 years. We have worked with Disney, Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson, McDonalds, and Peanuts, as well as iconic movies like “A Christmas Story”, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, “The Grinch” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” just to name a few. This year we will add “Elf” the movie to our Villages.
Our giftware offerings have dominated the giftware industry and our artists are constantly looking for new ideas and new trends as inspiration for their upcoming collections.

We are anxiously looking forward to whatever giftware and collectible trends come our way and are ready to tackle new ideas and new products for a new generation of collectors and hope that you will be along for the ride!

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