By Stephanie Finnegan
When Vanessa Taylor explains how she is building her vignettes and displays for “the children,” it’s not just for the kids who visit her open houses and “ooh” and “ahh” over the sensory overload. It’s also for her own nostalgic, sentimental recollections of her early years, growing up and loving her hometown as a curious and joyful child.
“I find that the older I get, the more my villages all start to look like my hometown from my childhood years,” observes Vanessa, age 53. “People and businesses decorated the streets, their homes, and their businesses to the max. People took more time, it seems, to stop and enjoy the holidays back then.”
In fact, it was the decorating of a business that introduced Vanessa to the world of Department 56® and other village manufacturers, back in 2007.
“I was working as an assistant manager at House of Fabrics and my manager put up a village in the store. I started my own village because of that display. My first Department 56® piece was Parkview Hospital, because the other ceramic company didn’t have a current hospital at that time. My quest to find a hospital led me to the Department 56® Yahoo Group. There, they told me about the local groups, and I was overjoyed,” Vanessa explains.
Finding like-minded folk in her own backyard — the Glendale, Arizona, environs — spurred the new collector to flex her creative muscles. She admits that she became instantly “hooked,” and in that first year managed to acquire more than 100 buildings due to eBay® and retirement sales.
Now, five years later, the collector admits that she has “more buildings than I can count, and more accessories than a person could imagine.” Vanessa has accumulated buildings and accoutrements for Seasons Bay, Bethlehem, Dickens, and Christmas Lane, to name a few. A woman of deep religious conviction, she utilizes her collectibles to explore her personal faith, as well as to mirror the world that once enshrined her youth, and embraces her world today. She personally puts all of her collectibles to good use, along with the able assistance of her husband, Monroe. Since her religion does “not encourage Christmas trees,” the villages have become vehicles to “decorate and to use things that I remember from my childhood.”
Married for 31 years, the couple joins forces when it comes to figuring out how best to set up and arrange Vanessa’s ever-expanding “metroplexes,” as she calls them. Vanessa is an information technologist specialist, and husband Monroe is a senior test engineer. Their combined backgrounds and insight are the perfect launching pad for building bigger and better displays.
“For the last three years, I have taken over the garage for the major part of my collection. It is a two-car garage, so I can display my biggest collection there, Christmas in the City,” Vanessa states. “I also turn my sewing room into Snow Village. I usually set a village display in the entry of my home, and also in the china cabinet that my husband gave me as a wedding present. I’m trying to convince Monroe to close in the back patio for even more space!”
Vanessa and Monroe both know that if a collector is challenged by spatial width, there is another way to go: and that is up, up, up!
The pair has expanded to multilevel constructions to show off her treasures: “This is the time and place when Monroe becomes the default collector. He builds the tables for my displays and engineers the other platforms by giving advice on what to use to accomplish the effects I need (for instance, a sawhorse, a support plank, the right electrical supplies). Monroe was the one who suggested I use the garage, and he had the floor finished, built shelves, and helped to paint it.”
Turning her dreams into reality has also converted Vanessa into a modern-day “Rosie the Riveter.” She excels at handling building tools, envisioning blueprints, and taking charge of a construction site. “Most of my friends are amazed by what we have done. I have people who come every year to see my setup. I take it down every year, and then I start from the beginning after November 3, which is Monroe’s birthday,” Vanessa shares. “I have friends who volunteer to come and help each year. There are also those who think I am completely mad because of the size of my inventory!”
A member of two clubs — Southwest Villagers and Desert Villagers — Vanessa hosts an open house for her fellow enthusiasts, as well as for her church members, coworkers, and family and friends: “The greatest enjoyment that I get from my hobby are the smiles from the children who come and see my village each year. Their wide eyes and the experience of these enchanted moments are enough to keep me doing it each year. I love when people find things that are unique in my arrangements. They enjoy seeing the couple dancing in the room, the man getting the tattoo, and the carnival rides. I have had a wonderful experience with my open house each year, and I have many people comment on the creativity that I use and the dedication that I give to my ‘metroplex’ each year. That inspires me!”
And Vanessa Taylor’s dedication to pursuing and finding new and old pieces that speak to her directly is an inspiration for Department 56® collectors everywhere. In five short years, she has gone from a tentative neophyte to a self-described “wiz with Styrofoam™.” Her transformation from ardent beginner to seasoned veteran makes her smile, and “seeing the smiles on others’ faces” is what her displays and her “Department 56® addiction” are all about.