Hand-painted gnomes (you know, the little men with the beards and pointed hats!) on 6-inch brown wooden boards, have spread through Oakland, California. Some of them wear kilts. Some of them are waving. A few stand next to mushrooms. Some are screwed to the base of utility poles! They all wear red hats, brown boots and shiny gold buckles. And they are NEVER affixed to trees…! A pair of them have appeared on the windowsill of the Haddon Hill Cafe.
“When you see these whimsical, magical little creatures, you’re reminded what an incredible city Oakland is, that’s it’s more than just crime,” said C.J. Hirschfield, director of Children’s Fairyland. “Plus, they’re just plain adorable.”
No one but the gnomes know who creates them, or why. According to neighborhood lore, they first sprung forth near Leaning Tower of Pizza on Wesley Avenue at least a year ago, but in the past six months have proliferated on utility poles throughout Haddon Hill, Adam’s Point and as far away as East 18th Street.
“We’ll be dispatching a crew to remove them,” said utility spokesman Jason King. “We can’t have anything that could compromise the integrity of our equipment. … The concern is that the gnomes could inspire additional people to place things on our property.”
For their part, the painted gnomes have “…inspired photo essays, websites, gnome-hunting expeditions and much neighborhood chatter.”
“They’re universally loved,” said David Colburn, a photographer who lives near the lake and who has documented the gnomes on his website. “I like the mystery, and the fact they’re subtle. Most people would walk right past them unless they knew to look.”
That’s their primary appeal, said Shannon Taylor, art and restoration director at Fairyland and a gnome enthusiast. The gnomes force passers-by to slow down and pay attention to the magic unfolding quietly around them, she said.
That’s undoubtedly the intention of the artist, she said. Similar anonymous and almost hidden art has appeared in London and other cities, giving observers a certain treasure-hunt thrill upon sightings, she said.
“You can only get so far by talking loudly. It’s the person who’s whispering who’s going to get your attention,” she said. “And gnomes are kind of funny and kitschy. Benign creatures accessible to everyone. Who doesn’t like gnomes?”
Well, it looks like we could name one utility company!
If you have ever worked closely with a utility or telecommunications company, you probably have encountered a few (or a MULTITUDE!) of people who lack imagination.
They probably have problems with gnomes!
The history of gnomes?
Gnomes in particular apparently date from 16th century Switzerland. The Swiss scientist and occultist Paracelsus described little men who live in the earth as “gnomi.” A few centuries later, gnomes showed up prominently in children’s literature, and in the 19th century the English went crazy for garden gnomes, ostensibly to keep gardens safe from burrowing troublemakers, Hellman said. <Dara Hellman, a Celtic studies instructor at UC Berkeley>
(Needless to say, at Cheshire Cat Photo, we think that “whimsy” is a GOOD thing! )
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