Wee Folk


As purveyors of Midcentury Modern we are sometimes perceived as being a little bit too up our Beton Brut. So when retailer and champion of young designers and German oddities Thorsten Van Elten asked if he could bring some garden gnomes (Gartenzwerge in German) to the March Midcentury Modern® show, he was a bit surprised when we pinged back an immediate “YES”.

While 25 million gnomes are thought to exist in gardens all over Germany the ceramic fairy folk are seen as more controversial here in old Blighty with less than 5 million estimated by some wee folk-loving statistician. Quite how they get the numbers we don’t know. What we do know is that they were first created in 19th-century Germany and became popular here when a landowner Sir Charles Isham installed 25 ceramic figurines in his rockery at Lamport Hall in the mid 19th Century after seeing them produced by Dresden company Baehr and Maresch in 1841.  


Banished from Chelsea Flower show before the First World War for detracting from the displays, they had a resurgence in popularity in the 1930s after Disney brought out the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They surfaced again in the Seventies as more varied characters were designed and six episodes of a barking-mad sitcom The Gnomes of Dulwich was aired but became the object of fun in the Nineties in the UK again when pranksters stole them, sending pictures of gnomes back from various parts of the country before returning them. In 2008 a fifty-three year old Breton from the North of France was arrested for stealing 170 gnomes. He was not the first to do this in Europe as The Garden Gnome Liberation Front were said to be stealing them from German gardens and releasing them over the German French border around the same time. 

In 2011 the world embraced wee folk again after the film Gnomeo and Juliet saw garden gnomes play heroes in a CGI interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Chelsea Flower Show lifted their ban in 2013 to mark the show’s centenary only to put it in place again for 2014 and see a line of 100 gold gnomes picket outside the Chelsea Flower show in 2015 to reflect accusations of snobbery from some camps.


“I always liked garden gnomes and did a bit of research on them when I came across these ones. You can’t really get much more German than garden gnomes, especially ones made since 1874 by a family run business with such amazing history,” says Van Elten who has sourced his particular magic folk from one of the last manufacturers of hand-made, hand-painted terracotta gnomes left in Germany. “The current owner is a fourth generation gnome maker in a family business that’s been making gnomes since 1874 so, they really don’t come any more authentic than these.” 

Thorsten Van Elten, a retailer in vintage and modern German design, will be showing his gnomes alongside cool young German designers Markus Gläser & Jan Eilts and Eli Grubbe at MIDCENTURY MODERN® on March 19th.

He is offering a very generous 20% off his wee folk for anyone saying “Gartenzwerge” on the day of the show. That’s just £44 for a pair. Could it be time for another revival?


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