Christmas in the Village
When John Walker of Bethel was little, he saw a small, ceramic village sitting on a counter at his house.
“There were about 10 pieces, and I thought, ‘That’s cool,’” said John, now a freshman at Telstar High School.
A hobby was born. John began tagging along to yard sales, where he would buy ceramic buildings and people, mostly with a Christmas theme, for 50 cents or a dollar each.
“He’d put them up with our Christmas decorations,” said his mom, Tracy.
Then after Christmas, she said, John would take his gift money and buy more things on clearance sales.
He began expanding his purchases to larger lawn decorations, and soon the Walker’s Bethel lawn would be decorated every Halloween and Christmas.
For Halloween, said John, “I had a little miniature graveyard.”
He now has items for every major holiday. He keeps them organized in tote bags in an older house the family still owns.
“I have a room for every holiday,” he said.
Tracy wonders what will happen when John leaves home.
“I can’t imagine what his house will look like,” she laughed.
John also gets contributions to his collection from families and friends. “My family will pick up anything they see,” he said.
And last year Kristen Mason of Bethel gave him a set of lawn reindeer that had belonged to her late father.
Tracy thinks there may be a genetic predisposition for John’s collecting habit.
The original ceramic village belonged to her father. “My father was a holiday nut,” she said. “He had a village under the Christmas tree.”
Her father died when she was only 9, so John never knew him. But Tracy recognizes the similarity.
This year, the Christmas decorating bug struck John on Thanksgiving.
“I was trying to get Thanksgiving dinner,” said Tracy. “He tried to get the crate out to decorate the tree. I told him he had to wait until we got done with dinner.”
Sometimes John’s friends get drawn in to his projects.
“He tries to sucker them into helping,” Tracy said.
John’s collection of ceramic houses now numbers about 75. It’s big enough that it no longer fits on their porch, where it’s normally displayed.
Tracy mentioned this to a Telstar teacher, who said that the Wild River Realty on Main Street in Bethel was looking for art to display in the windows.
Owner Bob Laux was contacted, and after seeing a photo of John’s display, agreed to host it, she said.
The softly-lit, old-time buildings in a snowy scene provide the setting for “people” going about their Christmas business dressed in 19th-century clothing. Santa Claus stands in front of the largest building – which came from the original 10-piece village belonging to John’s grandfather.
“I said, ‘That’s got to go in the window,” John said.
The teen’s artistic talents extend beyond setting up ceramics and lawn decorations.
He won the “Best in Show” award in this year’s photography contest at the Andover Olde Home Days. He photographed an old wagon he saw on a lawn during autumn, with foliage in the background and lit by late-day sun.
Tracy said John also has an eye for larger decor arrangements, “He’s always been good at telling me how to rearrange a room.”
John says he doesn’t know yet what career path might interest him in the future.
But the answer he gave for his fifth-grade yearbook?