Gnomes are gnice

I'd always been ambivalent about garden gnomes, but recently I've come to admire one of the little guys. Laurie Gadbois' backyard faces the parking area behind the library. If you walk through that alley from Third Street or Union Street, take a peek at the small garden across from the last parking space. Beneath a spray of lavender and chocolate cosmos sits a tiny garden gnome with a red jeweled hat and matching shoes. Naturally, he's reading a book. Gadbois said she toyed with making the book a pun.

"I wanted to put that he's reading 'Gnome Chomsky.' I thought that was funny, but I decided to have him read a book about flowers," she said.

Gadbois, a local artist, purchased the unadorned gnome at a growers market, jazzed him up with red glass, beads, and paint and set him in her back garden. Gadbois' work includes mosaics, sculptures, and jewelry, most of which she makes out of recycled materials.

"When I hear a plate break it's music to my ears," she said.

Gadbois added that she wants the garden and her artwork to reflect her joy at living so close to the library.

After my visit with the gnome, I made a quick trip to the library and learned a thing or two about them.

The first garden gnomes were made in the early 1800s from terracotta clay by ceramicists in Grafenroda, Germany, where folklore held that gnomes helped in the garden at night. Their popularity spread quickly all over Europe. Fancier garden organizations such as the Royal Horticultural Society banned gnomes years ago for being too kitschy, though a high profile member snuck a gnome into the show last year.

Apparently, gnomes are often pawns in subversive pranks. There are several gnome liberation groups, such as France's le Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardin (Garden Gnome Liberation Front), whose mission is to kidnap gnomes from suburban yards and release them into the wild. The practice of "gnoming," which was the basis for the "Travelocity" commercials and part of the plot of the popular French film "Amelie," involves "liberating" a gnome from its indentured garden servitude, photographing it at various landmarks around the world, then sending the photos back to the owner.

Gadbois considers her library gnome a small tribute to Ashland's fine library and its many patrons.

"I'm just so happy to be across from the library," she said. "I love living here, seeing the people going to the library, waiting for it to open, or dropping off books at midnight. The library is sort of a cultural hub for the city. When I saw this gnome, I knew it belonged here."

For its part, the gnome seems quite at home. While his less-fortunate kin are forced to toil over the soil, Gadbois' gnome, dressed in finery, is free to relax with a good book.

While I was talking to Gadbois, library patron Sib Farrell stopped by to peek at the gnome. "Every time I walk to the library and see the gnome and the flowers, I think someone really loving does this spot," Farrell said.

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