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Arts & Life

Overland Park Ceramics Studio Hides Tiny Gnomes In Area Parks

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
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Ceramic Cafe Creative Assistant Ariana DuBonis tucks an unpainted gnome into a landscape feature at Roe Park on Thursday night with instructions on what to do when it is found.

Ceramic Cafe owner Sara Thompson wanted to do something fun for the community while using up some extra clay.

A small business owner’s ability to adapt and overcome has been repeatedly tested over the past 12 months—an exercise that’s occasionally invigorating, but also draining.

So, when Ceramic Café owner Sara Thompson received a shipment of clay she only ordered because her usual type was unavailable, she shoved it aside. The clay wasn’t as soft as what she needed to make her popular hand and foot imprints.

By the time she had the energy to think about it again, in mid-February, the clay was even less desirable.

“The next thing I know, the clay had gotten a little stiff. I thought, what are we going to do with this?” Thompson says.

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Anne Kniggendorf
Sara Thompson has owned Ceramic Cafe in Overland Park since 1997.

She remembered something she’d seen on the Contemporary Ceramic Studio Association Facebook page. A member who operates in a more rural area than Overland Park, home to Ceramic Café since 1997, had solved a similar issue by creating gnomes and placing them in a park for children to find.

The idea was a little bit like the kindness rocks craze from a few years back — people painted rocks with positive messages and left them in random spots to delight strangers.

Thompson liked the positivity of that solution and decided she’d make about 200 gnomes to send into the world. She took clay home and shaped some base-model gnomes, just bodies wearing big hats, then handed them off to her staff for the detail work.

This arrangement worked well. Thompson wondered in which parks she should place the tiny sculptures, so she again turned to Facebook.

“Within a day, [my post] had been seen by 12,000 people, and we had 141 comments of which parks to go to,” Thompson says. That was on February 22.

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Anne Kniggendorf
These gnomes are on display at Ceramic Studio. The gnomes hidden in parks will be white and ready to paint.

She still had plenty of clay, so Thompson decided to up her gnome game — 200 would not be enough. Along with an army of friends, new and established customers, and staff, she set her sights on producing 1,000 2-inch-tall characters.
Long-time customer Rose Wrede stepped up about a week after Thompson announced the project.

“We all added our own little touches. I had to have a very large hat, and I put hearts on the feet—it has big feet sticking out—and the hat smooshes down over its very large gnome nose,” Wrede says.

Thompson offered volunteers one in-store dollar for every two gnomes they created. Wrede calls it “gnome money” and thinks she earned about 20 slips to spend at the studio.

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Anne Kniggendorf
Ceramic Cafe manager Jessica Flinkman stands with the gnomes that are packaged and ready to go to parks.

Manager Jessica Flinkman is a former kindergarten teacher working on her master’s degree. She’s lost count of how many figures she’s made, but says it was between 30 and 50.

“The people who come in to make them are just having a blast because they know they’re bringing joy to little kids and people who find them,” Flinkman says.

Wrede says she’s excited to find out what happens in the next phase of the project, but she left town to visit her grandchildren and won’t be around to scatter her creations in 25 area parks for other people’s grandchildren to find.

Thompson didn’t quite reach her goal of 1,000 gnomes. But nearly 800 of the little creatures are now in plastic bags resting on bright pieces of paper with instructions for returning to the store to paint and fire them for free.
Plans called for volunteers to hide the gnomes in parks Thursday night and Friday. Between 25 and 40 will go to each park, depending on the park’s size and its distance from the studio.

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
The gnomes made at Ceramic Cafe will be tucked in a plastic bag with instructions on what to do with them when they are found.

“If they don’t bring them back, we haven’t lost much,” Thompson says. “We still gain in community goodwill. We’ve done a fun thing for the community, and hopefully maybe half of them will come back.”

Each gnome is numbered to track which ones go to which parks and which ones return. Thompson is tracking, because she wants to make this an annual tradition.

Originally, her plan had been to release the gnomes on St. Patrick’s Day. The rain deterred her, and she was kind of glad about that.

“I feel better about doing it later,” Thompson explains. “I think about the parents who work who couldn’t take their kids out. It is more equitable by doing it on Friday.”

KC Parent Magazine created this map for the project.

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