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Secrets of gnome world revealed at new museum

Gnome Land USA opens in Auburn

Secrets of gnome world revealed at new museum
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Hundreds of gnomes are setting up camp on rural acreage near Auburn with the intention of making the foothills their permanent home. Liz Spera has assembled more than 2,000 gnome figures and after three years of efforts, has opened Gnome Habitat U.S.A. – a privately run museum on the lore, legend and wonder of the gnome world. Called leprechauns in Ireland, kabouters in Holland, gnoms in Poland and erdmanleins in Germany (but never trolls), gnomes have become omnipresent in gardens throughout the United States. Spera, 52, started collecting gnome-related items 29 years ago and her love – and efforts to find books and new figures – has never waned. The figures themselves are good luck charms that originated in Scandinavia before spreading to other nations about 500 years ago. Spera has converted an outbuilding into a museum containing much of her collection. She opened its doors for the first time to visitors over the weekend, sharing her love for gnomes at a location where the gnomes “live, work and play.” Currently president of the International Gnome Club, Spera displayed hundreds of her gnomes as well as gnome cookies and candies, posters, and a book published last month that features her museum and massive collection. The 5-acre parcel Spera shares with her husband, Joe, and teenage son J.T., has been turned into a mystical place for visitors who want to enter the world of gnomes. On the grounds of Gnome Habitat U.S.A. people can stroll past a “Tree Man” – a face on the side of a tree that asks for “coppers” for safe passage to the nearby pond, where swans and ducks swim in the shade. On the grounds is also a labyrinth and a Native American sacred circle for quiet reflection. Sweeping views of the valley await. And don’t be surprised if a chicken strolls by. But the museum – holding cases of rare and beautiful trolls – is the main attraction. “We have Limoges trolls, wine bottle toppers, everything you can think of,” Spera said. Jean Fenstermaker, who has created a series of seven troll gardens at her Santa Rosa home, said she’s amazed by the work Spera has put into the troll museum and grounds. In addition, Spera puts out a quarterly newsletter to club members in several countries. “She has more energy that I ever had,” Fenstermaker said. While Spera and Gnome Club members are lovingly fostering the legend and lore of gnomes, Fenstermaker said they are facing a threat from groups that are taking gnomes from gardens and “liberating” them by returning them to forests. She’s read where the organization has 44 chapters in the United States. In Europe, the stolen gnomes often end up re-painted and broken when they’re found, she said. “Why can’t they put all that energy to something useful – it’s sick,” Fenstermaker said. On the plus side, a new organization – the Federation for the Protection of Garden Gnomes – has also been established to protect them, she said. Spera said she has heard of no local “gnome-nappings” but is cautious about “gnomeland security.” That will mean holding no open tours and instead asking that people phone the gnome hotline at (530) 889-9925 or contact gnomehabitatusa@aol.com to arrange a visit.