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Icons in the Village

on March 08, 2018

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

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.