Garden Gnomes and the Magic Camel… stories of restoration

Irene Rowlery painting two garden gnomes

Me, retouching the two garden gnomes with acrylic paint.

Last week I pulled Mom’s two garden gnomes out of storage in my garage, and restored them. It is the least I can do for my mom, since she was feeling sick.

Honestly I have been procrastinating. I had promised to do this years ago, but I did not know how to restore garden art, while still retaining its original charm. I am a good girl when it comes to maintaining “original charm” and “artistic authenticity.”I also did not know what type of paint to use on garden art. The original colors looked baked onto the large gnome.  I had heard of Latex but had to look it up. When I found it it was a just another word for acrylic paint, I was quite relieved, as I have been painting with acrylics since I was a small child.

Now the gnomes belong to Mom, she had them in her beautiful Sebastopol garden for decades. The large one was shipped to her from her cousins in Holland and the small one carved for her from one of her women’s group friends. She moved into a retirement home, and lost the garden in 2015, and I’ve had them in my garage ever since. I decided to surprise her with their sudden restoration and reapparance, last week.  When she opened the door and saw them again, I heard her laugh. It was the biggest laugh I have ever heard from her, ever!

The Restoration Steps:

both gnomes, how they looked before repairs

both gnomes, how they looked before repairs

step 1. sand off the chipping edges of old chipped paint edges

step 2. use dish soap to wash off the caked on dirt and cobwebs. The little wooden gnome had very, very dirty pants. I almost had to scold him for that…

step 3. on the wooden gnome, fill the cracks and gashes with cherry colored wood filler, pat it down and sand it.

step 4. begin painting!  Acrylic paints worked fine, just another type of “latex” paint

step 5. repair plastic side.  When I came across a large broken plastic section on the large gnome, I at first panicked. Then I said “hmm, hmm, I have owned a house for a while now, lets see what I have here in the garage… hey look I bet caulking would work and will dry to match this type of plastic surface.” I gobbed it on with my caulking gun, and then smoothed it out with my palette knife.

step 6.  spray varnish both gnomes, with a dull-gloss, clear water-based varnish. It is essential here to match the gloss and varnish used by the original artist, else you ruin the “artistic authenticity.”

step 7. Drive them to Mom’s new house.. The large gnome fit perfectly into my passenger seat, and I put him in a seat belt, and I wondered if I could therefore use the carpool lane? Then I put the gnomes in front of Mom’s front door, ring the bell and hide just out of site, so Mom can imagine they rang the bell all by themselves…

The Magic Plastic Camel

As I worked on the gnomes, I was reminded that long ago when I was about 5 years old, I had a friend named Suzanna, and we once had found an old broken toy (that looked something like a big plastic camel) behind our apartment in some place where people throw their trash, and decided we needed to save it. I recall how we washed it, painted it with children’s paint, and glued its broken pieces. At the end I asked Susanna, “what should we do with it, sell it and makes lots of money? Give it to a homeless child? Play with it ourselves?”  Susanna said, “Oh no, what we do is we put it back… back in that bush over there and be found!” She wanted to surprise the original child and to make them think it was magically transformed. And so we did, we put it back into the bushes near the dumpsters. I hope the original child is reading this because I’d like to know.

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