Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

October 12, 2004 > Christmas Villages - An Incredible Collection.

Christmas Villages - An Incredible Collection.

by Arathi Satish.

These villagers are busy, preparing for a white Christmas. Proprietors, artisans, laborers and shoppers are intent on making this holiday season especially cheerful and pleasant. This is an amazing feat since the whole scenario of village, outlying countryside and merrymakers is housed within the lobbies of two Hyatt hotels in San Francisco.

Len Connacher is a collector of Department 56 Snow Village miniatures. This assemblage of houses, shops, vehicles, people, animals, trees, mountains and much more, started in 1981. He now has one of the largest collections of its kind in California (probably the world) and passionately believes in sharing the joys and delight of his collection with others. The San Francisco Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero and the Hyatt Hotel in Union Square proudly display this collection every year during the holiday season. It has become a tradition for many people in the Bay Area to visit this one-of-a-kind display that is redesigned and unique each year.

Len is a frequent visitor to The Crystal Aerie in the Niles district of Fremont where he can often be found surveying the large display of Department 56 miniatures and asking proprietor, Nancy Ficker, about new items. Aficionados like Len and browsers alike come to Nancy's store to view scenes of Department 56 villages and figures of their inhabitants as well as collectibles from a wide variety of other manufacturers.

Connacher started out by displaying his village pieces in his apartment in Castro Valley. One day, his boss saw the collection and suggested that he "Put it out where people can see it." She contacted a few hotels in San Francisco and as a result, he started to display the collection at the Hyatt Hotel in Union Square. In the beginning, he had 100 village pieces; today he has over 500 villages! The display features 3,000 hand crafted ceramic collectibles, including musical carousels, ice skating rinks, ski slopes, gondolas, chalets, trains, snow capped mountains and trees.

The eye-catching ceramic displays take a week to set up and a day to dismantle for each hotel. Connacher builds platforms and provides electricity for the buildings. He sprinkles snow on the villages and lights up the lighthouses, creating unique scenes. Even though Connacher has had serious health problems, he continues to display his awesome collection for the public to enjoy. His exhibits have been at the Embarcadero for seven years and in Union Square for eight years.

Connacher collects specific types of Department 56 Christmas Snow Villages. While Department 56 offers several styles including the whimsical North Pole Series, Dickens' Village, Christmas in the City and an Alpine Village, Connacher prefers the "lighter" style of the New England Village. He is well known for his work and receives correspondence from around the country. Special bus tours are organized by schools just to view his display. Many people visit the Hyatt Hotel just to see his villages, and some people approach him for ideas.

The scenes are set up with a specific theme in mind. He might start with a castle, and then build houses, farms, cabins on hills or a downtown area. When he creates the displays, he works on it till he is satisfied that each piece is positioned just right.

Apart from his Christmas Village collection, Len also collects spooky Halloween pieces and has a few pieces from the Barbie and Easter collections as well. Besides the Snow Villages, he shows some pieces in the six curio shelves at the Union Square Hyatt. Despite a lot of effort to create the scenes, he does not expect the hotels to pay him. He does it for the pleasure it gives him and others.

The displays are packed and transported to San Francisco and set up by volunteers; Union Square is set up first, then the Embarcadero. He buys new pieces each year, sometimes duplicating them, for the two different locations.

Connacher recalls his childhood days when his father used to set up his own display in the spare room of their home and feels that ceramic art is in his blood.

It becomes apparent when Connacher speaks that he is a true artist who loves collecting and display his ceramic scenes. He remembers with pleasure the school kids who came on buses to stare at the Christmas Villages. Last year, he was honored when Department 56 made a piece called "Connacher Nursery" for their New England series and sent him a letter, which he has proudly framed.

Christmas is a season for gift giving. Connacher does that when he sets up his displays. He brings great jot to a countless number of people who come to see his collection.

The Halloween collection is on display at the Hyatt in Union Square from October 16th through the 31st. The Christmas Snow Villages will be on display at the Hyatt in Union Square and the Hyatt at the Embarcadero during the holidays but are taken down prior to the New Year's celebrations.

To view the Department 56 collections, a trip to The Crystal Aerie in Niles will provide a wonderful preview of Len Connacher's collection and a variety of additional village types as well. Come by to enjoy the displays at The Crystal Aerie and then see Len's phenomenal exhibits in San Francisco. Who knows, you may want to start your own collection too!

The Crystal Aerie
37597 Niles Blvd., Fremont
(510) 791-0298
(800) 736-6873

Tuesday - Saturday
10:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
12:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Closed Monday

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