By Stephanie Finnegan
“When Anna Met Marqus” could be the name of a follow-up film to the beloved When Harry Met Sally romantic comedy. Anna Banach, a 30-year-old collector from Santa Maria, California, met her fiancé in an appropriately Hollywood screwball way. They both attended a mutual friend’s going-away party and were introduced at the festivities. Only, later on, did Anna discover that she and Marqus worked at the same company, in the same building (but on opposite sides), and McPherson was well aware of that when they had their celebrating chance encounter.
“It seems to me, the whole happenstance meeting was a conspiracy,” Anna grouses in mock annoyance. But, the subterfuge worked out for the best, and the two have been an item for eight years now. While other couples vow to stay together through “sickness and health” and, of course, “richer or poorer,” Banach and McPherson are glued together through boxes of shrubbery, cartons of ceramic buildings, and assorted treasure-troves of miniature families and even tinier woodland creatures.
Anna is a self-confessed Dickens’ Village addict: “I cannot go a day during the holidays without uttering Dickens’ Village or Department 56. I’m sure this is a common affliction. So common, in fact, that I would like to open the ‘Department 56 Collector’s Rehabilitation Center for Department 56 Collectors,’” the enthusiast shares, laughing at the deliberate redundancy and the undeniable need.
A good sport and a helpful partner, as well as a drafted laborer for toting the tote bags filled with little accessories, Marqus has agreed to share their living space with Anna’s ever-growing, ever-evolving Dickens’ displays. However, there always looms a potential threat that at any minute “green army men could be dropped in to stage a coup,” Banach admits.
Anna began her collecting back in 1998, with the Heritage Village, and it progressed to Dickens’ Village in 2004. Today, she has more than 70 buildings from the Department 56 Dickens’ line, and 200-plus accessories. In a real-life version of “not being able to see the forest for the trees,” she admits that she can’t keep track of the number of arboreal items that she owns. The trees are out of hand, and their proliferation had been targeted by her 7-year-old boxer, Zoe. “She is the Tree Removal Service. When she was a pup, she would steal into the displays to get my tiny trees. And then she’d take them to her bed and bury them under her blankets! She’s not done this in years, but the name stuck, anyway. We figure she has retired.”
Fantasy plays a large part in how Banach approaches her displaying and tinkering. She is not afraid to think big, and take risks.
“Dream often and without limits and soon you’ll see the world in miniature eyes. Suddenly the possibilities are endless, as nails and twine can become new fencing; picks for wreaths and floral stems in general can be broken down to make flower beds and other foliage. Learn to scale down, and don’t be afraid to try new things! I have a silo that I built out of a cattail lawn stake meant to house a tealight candle. I found it broken in the clearance section of a dollar store. I’m certain the manager thought I had gone mad when I told him I wanted the broken one instead of one of the good ones. As a result, he just gave it to me,” Anna declares. “Don’t hesitate to scour your own yard for twigs to make trees, or rocks for walls and walkways. Or use old paper grocery bags to make roads and paths. I did this when I first started, since I didn’t want to take away from my budget for buying people and buildings. In any case, don’t hold yourself back.”
When Anna takes a break from her Department 56 setups, and from her job as a demonstrator/instructor at a local crafts store, she loves to go traveling. But even when she is exploring parts of the big, wide world, her miniature thoughts remain in her heart.
“On our recent trip to Poland and England, I picked up several items that work really well. In Krakow, Marqus bought me a a miniature manger. It was a bit pricey, but handmade to commemorate the Christmas Crib festival that is held there each year. In London, I found very inexpensive pencil sharpeners in the shape of the famous British phone booth. While we were visiting family in Amish Country, Ohio, I bought some tiny carved sheep from a local woodcarver,” Anna narrates. “I even have oyster shells from when I visited The Union Oyster House in Boston. I use these as cliffs at the lighthouse. These things not only make my village unique, but they also remind me of the places Marqus and I have visited.”
Admitting that she and her intended have a “love/hate” relationship with the Department 56 vignettes—“I love it/he hates it”—Banach admits that McPherson has stepped outside of his comfort zone and has helped her amass and construct the displays that decorate their home. “I think he’s not pleased with the fact that I start a little earlier and put away a little later each year. But, in reality, he is the chief architect and foreman of the substructure, the safety commissioner while I cut my Styrofoam™ pieces just so, and, most importantly, the financial executive and philanthropist. It should be mentioned that he’s funded nearly 100 percent of the development of what we call ‘The Christmas Metropolis and Suburban Areas.’ It should really just be called ‘Marqusvale,’” Anna acknowledges.
“I always like to put my display somewhere where it can be seen. This year, it’s displayed on a desk in a niche in the hallway, on the mantel in the living room. In the living room is a five-tiered bookshelf with a vignette on each shelf, as well as the main and small end-table displays in the opposing corners of the room. They all have names. For example, they are called ‘Old Town on the Mantel,’ ‘The Cottages at Endtable,’ ‘Shelf Wharf,’ and so on,” Banach reveals.
Her villages might be sprawling, but their allure is found in the tiny components that she painstakingly labors over: “When first seen, it’s overwhelming within the first few minutes, but many go back to look at the details. And that’s where the splendor is. From tiny birdhouses hanging from the trees to itty-bitty birds perched atop buildings, bushes and the snow, to other accoutrements ‘hidden’ in plain sight — it’s the little things that make it almost a treasure hunt for the past.”
As Anna Banach has been tweaking and arranging and investing herself into her layouts, her techniques have grown, and so has her self-awareness. Her evolution as a collector and as a person have developed together.
“Until recently, when I looked at my village I thought of myself as a novice collector. I was hesitant to go to the gathering in Phoenix, but did so, just to add the experience. I was in awe of all of the collectors and the villages. And when a new friend asked me how many pieces I had, it was only then that it sank in. I had been measuring my village solely on the pieces that were missing, and not what I had amassed, or the techniques I had learned. It was an epiphany for me.” With wisdom beyond her 30 years, the collector advises: “Be proud of what you have, as it took time and love to build; and the more you’re excited about it, the more everyone else who comes to see it will be too.”