Learning from the Master

on July 15, 2019

Recently I had the tremendous pleasure of asking Village artist Barbara Lund a few questions about her long career at Department 56 which dates back to about 1989. As many of you know, Barbara was the daughter of our Heritage Village architect, Neilan Lund. Barbara worked alongside her father for many years as the Village gained in popularity and more designs were needed each introduction period. Neilan passed away in 2009 and Barbara took over without even the slightest notice of a difference in design, creativity and quality by our collectors. He taught her well.

Barb Lund
Barb Lund and her first Village design "McGrebe's Cutters & Sleighs"

As a point of reference for new collectors, the Dickens’ Village, the first of the Villages introduced by Neilan Lund began in 1984 with the Shops of Dickens’ Village. New England Village followed in 1986 as did Alpine Village. (We then added Christmas in the City, not designed by the Lund Creative team in 1987.) And lastly, the North Pole was added to the group of Villages known as “Heritage Village” in 1990. These Villages were grouped together to help identify that each was made of porcelain bisque with a matte finish. The porcelain material allowed for a slightly smaller “footprint” and more details.

Here are the questions I posed to Barbara along with her thoughtful responses.

Neilan Lund
Neilan Lund

1. I have heard that you, along with other members of your family helped Neilan with research and bits and pieces in the early years. What did you do?
“Of course when the Villages began there was no Internet which would have made research and verification of facts easy. Luckily, my mother had a Master’s degree in English literature so she had a pretty broad command of Victorian England and actually a pretty broad command of New England. While still working at General Mills, Neilan drew houses at night for a Realtor in a nearby suburb. You may recall, no one used photography then to advertise a home these pictures were all hand drawn and published in newspapers. He had a great deal of experience drawing houses. Still, there were many trips to the library for research which I also participated in. There was travel abroad and a file of hundreds and hundreds of photographs. Before the Internet artists also kept vast files of small illustrations or photos to use as scrap (inspiration or ideas, suggestions). For instance, even the best artist may understand the parts of and what a water pump looks like, but it is pretty hard to re interpret that without a picture of one. I also kept vast “scrap” files.”

2. Do you remember the conversation you had with Neilan about “officially” joining the design team?
“When I began at Department 56, I had just finished working for an academic publisher. Your question is funny Melinda as I know you remember Neilan. I have no recollection of a conversation per se. Mom had died recently and she was the heart and soul of the project. Village sales were taking off and he needed help. I think he more or less pointed to me and said, You’re it.”

3. Was that a big decision, or did you see it coming?
“Starting with him was not too big a decision. I saw the company as my mother’s legacy that had to be continued. Neilan was overworked but not so over worked that he wanted to hire a professional in those early years. I was a book editor and not an artist so I sat on a stool next to his drawing board for almost two years and watched him. He never made a mistake and he never rethought his designs because he has worked out shapes and angles in his head before he began. In all honesty, that was tremendously intimidating because I could not do that. Still, little by little he would give me easy assignments to give me confidence. Did I have a natural potential or aptitude for the work? I think we will never know the answer to that because he was such a good and exacting teacher. We needed me to draw as the Villages were our family legacy, so I drew.”

4. What was the first piece that you designed all on your own? And what did Neilan think of it?
The first piece I designed and completed without help was the original NE sleigh company, ‘McGrebe’s Cutters & Sleighs’. I think he was proud that I did that and had learned to do the “top down” image so that the roof lines and wall placements etc. showed for the model and mold makers. The piece was modest. He encouraged me but once I had my “sea legs” he certainly spoke to me as critically as he would have another artist. I suppose there were times I bristled, but I always understood that putting a more critical eye on something was the way I could improve. As an aside, I will admit that even in the years after Neilan died, there were many times, sitting at the drawing board, I wish I could have asked him something because he always knew the solution.”

5. Tell us about your favorite part about this work?
“I think it is fairly rare to have had a working relationship with a parent for so many years that was so congenial and companionable. We understand our parents a certain way but to work with them can give rise to complications that most families do not have. I was always so proud to work with and for Neilan. He was brilliantly gifted and greatly admired by people in the industry. I saw this a million times.”

6. What will you miss most?
“So I have called this business our family legacy as the Dickens Village was my mother’s idea. I think the New England Village was my mother's idea. We had a wonderful, long run with this company and I think we have created things that gave people great joy. I am grateful all the very dear people at Department 56 who have shown me kindnesses more than I can count. I have known dozens of store owners and sales reps who have always offered so much warmth and goodwill over the years. Is it hard to leave a job after 30 years that has brought joy, a sense of accomplishment and a piece of a legacy for a family, you bet it is. Still, the Villages are more than an artist or an idea. They are a legacy on their own. I was lucky enough to play a small part. The traditions will continue.

To us, Barbara will always be our Village artist and we will fondly remember her for the historically correct and detailed designs she drew for years to enhance our Villages. We wish her well in the next chapter of her life.

Here are a few thoughts from some of our other employees:

Michael Griffith, President Enesco/Department 56
Barb Lund and her contribution to Dickens Village will truly be missed. Her vision for carrying on her father’s vision has been the guiding principal for the development of new pieces over the years. We truly appreciate all she has done and promise to carry on what she and her father began so many years ago. Thank you, Barb and enjoy your well-earned retirement.

Tom Bates, Village Artist:
Barb is a very talented designer with a great appreciation for detail. I especially liked her designs in Dickens’ Village. She did a wonderful job taking over for her dad when he retired from designing for Department 56. Barb’s talents will be missed as she starts a new journey in her life.

Rick Jackson, Creative Director:
I have had the pleasure of working with Neilan and Barb right from the very beginning of my career at D56.  Neilan was still drawing the majority of the pieces then. Yet slowly but surely, Barb was drawing more and more until Neilan felt comfortable enough to retire again!  He still would cherry pick a house or two a year to keep his creative juices flowing, but soon it was Barb who was leading the charge for the designs.  When I would get a request as to identify which house each artist did for signing event planning, I noticed I had to double check Dickens’ Village art to be sure I got it right, Neilan or Barb – high praise indeed for Barb that I had to do that.  Barb was always careful about authenticity in her art and always very aware about the story each piece told.  She never took our collectors for granted - always looking forward to meeting them at events across the country.  Barb and I worked very well together and I consider her a friend and I know that she is enjoying her new life outside of Department 56.  I did manage to meet her out in California for lunch shortly after she moved there and I have to say the change in climate and lifestyle has reenergized her.  I know I speak for all of us at Department 56 in wishing Barb continued success in her new life out west.

Melinda Seegers, Ms Lit Town:
Knowing both Barb and her father, Neilan for so many years, I feel that I can count her among my friends at Department 56. We attended many open houses together and spent time talking about work, the collectors and family. She had great respect for the talents of her father and loved to see and hear the reactions and comments from collectors. She loves her family and we can all learn from that. One of my favorite memories with Barb is a trip we took to Lynchburg, TN for an event for the Jack Daniel pieces. We had time in between signing sessions and decided to tour the cemetary where Jack and many of his relatives were buried. That is when I discovered that Barb also has a love of history.

Lisa Johnson, Regional Area Executive, Sales:
I had the pleasure of getting to know Barb Lund not only as an artist but someone I would call my friend.  We travelled together many times for Events and each time we had better laughs and stories than the time before. My favorite story was when we were in Washington doing an event and it was pouring rain, I had a rental car but decided to shuttle to the event and meet her there.  The next morning as we headed off to our next event we realized that when I had parked my car the afternoon before I had never turned it off  ( a push button start car) and it ran for 18 hours straight!  We got a good laugh as we always did when we travelled together. Barb has a heart of gold and is truly one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I have ever met.  I will miss her so much as an artist for Department 56, but the legacy that her father and now she has left behind is nothing but good memories. I wish her all the best in the future and look forward to seeing her in the fall.