By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, VA. —
It is a winter wonderland in miniature, hundreds of tiny buildings and people all decorated up for the holidays.
Zane Rice didn’t always have a home filled to the brim with a miniature Christmas village, but over the years her collection has grown to take up one full room and part of a larger room. Through some carpentry help from her husband Don and her own creativity, Rice has a massive collection of porcelain village sets across her Bluefield, Va., basement, mostly produced through the Department 56 company.
“They say once you touch them it’s magic, that you can’t put it down,” Rice said. “You just have to collect more and more. Don says I don’t collect them, but that I hoard them. I love all the different scenes and pieces. One of my favorites are the church and farm sets, but I really enjoy all of them.”
It took 20 years to expand Rice’s collection to what it is today.
“We lived in Michigan at the time when I started collecting around 1992 or early 1993,” Rice said. “I like the rural aspect of the villages because it reminded me of where I grew up. I was born in the Mudfork area right above the Falls Mills Dam, and then we moved into Bluefield when I was older.”
Rice said the first piece she ever purchased with a church modeled after the old North Church in Boston where Paul Revere began his famous midnight ride.
“I started out collecting the New England Village because it reminded me of home and growing up in a rural area,” she said. “I then began collecting the North Pole sets because I love Christmas. Don and I worked at the same toy company, and when I retired, they gave me nine pieces from the Charles Dickens set, which started me collecting those.”
After moving to the two Virginias, Rice met up with many fellow collectors. She presently serves as president of the Four Seasons 56 Collectors’ Club, which brings collectors from across the region together for quarterly meetings.
“We moved here in 1994, and we have a collectors club that started in 1997. The club has about 30 members,” she said. “Our collectors club meets around the holidays and we sometimes go from home to home see other members’ collections. Being in a collectors club also allows you access to some pieces they don’t sell to the public.
When she and her husband moved to Bluefield, Va., Rice said she had the basement built specially for her collectibles.
“When we moved to this house I wanted a room for my collection,” she said. “The men who build this house joked that they were going to charge me by the outlet in this room because there are so many outlets in my Christmas room. They all connect to one switch, so I can turn the entire thing on at the same time.”
Now, the number of buildings in Rice’s Christmas villages number in the hundreds.
“I have about 250 houses that light up presently on display, not counting the accessories like the little people, trees and all the other items,” Rice said. “I have another 100 houses not on display just because I don’t have room for them. I haven’t bought as many in the past few years because I just don’t have room for them. I do put some out at Christmas that I do not normally display. I’ll put them on the mantle over the fireplace or on the tables.”
While some figurines depict traditional holiday tales and carols like the “12 Days of Christmas,” others are modeled after real buildings. Rice has scale models of Ramsford Palace, Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and Kensington Palace among her Christmas village tableaus. Other buildings in the collection come from fiction.
“All of the homes in the Dickens Village are the buildings he described in his stories,” Rice said. “Six of the collection I have were commissioned by the Charles Dickens Foundation to show his last residence and several of the inns where he stayed while he was writing. A lot of the villages and houses are taken from historical buildings. Even the buildings that aren’t exact replicas of famous buildings are sometimes based on old buildings.”
Though many of the buildings come as sets, Rice has set them up with her own flair.
“I have set up a little sea port in one corner with a cannery, lobster company and boat dock,” she said. “I have the Apple Valley School here, and I moved it next to the apple farm. I found some apple trees at a craft store and set them up in between. I also have the little Sleepy Hollow section set up and this little Amish village. I only get the pieces I enjoy. I just know which ones I want when I see them.”
Not all of the pieces are stationary, either.
“I have several animated pieces including the skaters, the carousel and a piece called ‘A Walk in the Park’ where the figures move around the park,” Rice said. “I also have a train that goes through the tunnel when I turn it on. This one has skiers and snow sledders that operate by being pulled with magnets.”
Rice said she prefers the porcelain collectibles to the ceramic ones.
“All of the ones I collect are porcelain,” she said. “The company that puts these out does porcelain houses, but they also do ceramic villages. I like the matte look of the porcelain better than the shiny ceramic look. I don’t collect any of the ceramic villages, and there are villages that are just ceramic.”
While some accessories come from the store, Rice said she and her husband have made others.
“Some of the trees and accessories were made by the company that puts out the buildings while others I bought at stores,” she said. “Some things I have picked up were intended for doll houses. I am always looking for things I can add to the village. I have added things like putting a swing on a tree, placed bridges and my husband Don built the corral for my reindeer. My road here is made of gravel like you would put in the bottom of an aquarium. Don is really great. When something with my displays won’t fit, he will fix it. He takes whatever I imagine and makes it reality. Whatever he makes is always what I envisioned.”
The village displays have become a permanent fixture at the Rice residence.
“It stays up all year round,” Rice said. “The question I get the most is how do I dust it. I take a magnetic duster and pick up what I can with that. I just pretend the rest is another layer of snow. I come down and change it around sometimes. I think a house would be better somewhere else or one of the accessories might go better with another location. A lot of the set up comes from my imagination. Whenever I get in the mood, I just redo a section.”
Even outside the holiday season, Rice said many friends and visitors to the area stop by to see her displays.
“People are always stopping by to see it,” Rice said. “I am always glad to show it off. I just recommend they call ahead to make sure I’m home so I can show them around. I have a guest book for people to sign when they come by so I can keep track of my visitors. Most of the time, we will see people when we are out and about. They will say they heard I collect the villages, and we will invite them over to see them.”
No matter the time of year, Rice said her displays allow her to indulge in a bit of Christmas spirit.
“I’m still a kid at heart,” Rice said. “ I love Christmas, and I really love Christmas decorations. It’s the kid in me, I guess. It just gives me a little bit of Christmas spirit all year round.”
— Contact Kate Coil at firstname.lastname@example.org�