Game of Gnomes: craftsman struggles to find successor



(3 Jun 2019) LEADIN:
Could this be the end of the gnomes? Germany’s oldest manufacturer of the garden sculptures is struggling to find a suitable successor.
65-year-old Reinald Griebel is a fourth-generation maker. His great-grandfather founded the company in 1874.
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You can find them on balconies, in gardens, in homes.
Nowadays, they’re made in different shapes and dressed in modern fashions. But the classic gnome figure, with red hat and white beard, has survived them all.
“The gnome radiates a certain way of cosiness. And the gnomes are made most of the time with a smiling face,” says Reinald Griebel, owner of Germanys oldest gnome manufacturer, Philipp Griebel.
“I believe we humans need that – we find enough stupid faces elsewhere.”
Griebel is a fourth-generation manufacturer of hand-made garden gnomes.
He crafts them from clay in Germany’s Thuringia, in the village of Grafenroda.
The village markets itself as the birthplace of the famous garden gnome.
In 1874, Griebel’s great-grandfather, Philipp, founded the company.
Grandfather Wendelin later created the garden gnome of the same name and thus the most sold model.
Today, gnomes are mostly made out of plastic, but making gnomes the traditional way, from baked clay, is what’s helped Griebel survive in a rapidly globalised market.
“I have taken over many of the old models and built new forms out of them to let the old gnomes once again rise to their former glory,” he says.
.Veronika Jager has painted gnomes at Philipp Griebel for over 30 years.
“They should not be cross-eyed. The ends between shirt and trousers should be very precise,” she says.
“There are also a few garden gnomes in my garden. One is a very special one, a large lying one, who lies quite casually there. His name is Felix as was my father’s name, and this is symbolic for me.”
The first German “gartenzwerge” dates back to the end of the 19th century.  
According to Griebel, gnome figures are linked to miners working in the coal mines.
During the GDR, their manufacture was owned by the state.  At the height of its production, it employed around 60 people.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Griebel took back ownership of the factory and has run it ever since. But now it’s getting difficult for him.
“There is this small problem which has been growing over the years, that I am getting older and that I would like to take my pension at some point,” says the 65-year-old.
“I am searching for a successor who works like we do. But at the moment there is no one who has the courage to go on to make gnomes here in Germany.”
Today, besides the factory there’s also a gnome museum. Groups of visitors come to see the manufacturing process and the museum all year round.
“They are colourful and have always a smile on their lips. And that makes you happy,” says visitor Rita Muller.
Some gnomes cause visitors to become nostalgic.
“It is kind of the memories of your youth, the fairytales your parents told you,” says visitor Konrad Marz.
“And it’s part of the garden, I guess. It is nice to look at. And it kind of radiates a little bit of peace.”

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