Take Five: Taking a Look inside Artist Scott Smith’s Christmas Workshop
A Santa who is donning a white hat while dancing in snow together with a jolly snowman, with a broom in hand and a top hat on his head, as well as Krampus (a devil-like creature derived from European folklore and believed to be the opposite of Santa) with his tongue sticking out Miley Cyrus style, are just some of the Christmas based sculptures that you’ll find in Michigan artist Scott Smith’s Rucus Studio. Whimsical, playful and magical (much like the holiday itself), these meticulously handcrafted papier mâché sculptures will remind you of childhood fairy tales, bringing you back to a time of innocence and curiosity in which Santa brought presents on his sleigh and elves and dwarves lurked in the corners of one’s home. Just looking at these unique figurines is enough to not only feel like a child again, but to be engulfed by wonderment and the Christmas spirit.
The last time we spoke with Smith, he was busy crafting his year-round Halloween sculptures, an endeavor he is particularly fond of due to its festive nature and childhood reminiscence. Adding to his already grand collection, from November to March, he makes various Christmas oriented pieces from Santas (who happen to be from all areas of the world) and snowmen to reindeer, Belsnickels and moons, which all have a bit of a semblance to his Halloween creatures, bearing the same smirks and sinister looks. “Not to be outdone, the winter landscape with snow and glittering ice, provides yet another theme to work with,” Smith writes on his site, as he describes his influences, one of them being the changing seasons.
Wishing to share some of the holiday cheer with us, Smith took time out from his work to speak to us about his fascination with Santas, what other creatures we might find in his studio, and whether he plans to make a Christmas market much like his Ghoultide Gathering. Smith also tells us where one can purchase his one-of-a-kind creations.
GALO: Aside from thematic and seasonality reasons, how do your Christmas character sculptures differ from those that you craft for Halloween? Do you find any similarities, perhaps in their facial expressions (I noticed that some of the Christmas sculptures seem to have almost sinister smiles or mischievous looks, as if they were planning something or had knowledge of a fact that one was yet to discover), or in terms of their personalities and the stories they represent?
Scott Smith: I have a passion for collecting antique Christmas [trinkets] from the turn of the century, German Santas, reindeer and Belsnickles. Many of the finishes and ideas used on these rare pieces inspire my Christmas works. German Santas and Belsnickels often have a very stern or sinister look. This was intended to make the children think twice before misbehaving. I enjoy a traditional Christmas, and, of course, humor, which is where much of my more whimsical and odd personalities come from.
GALO: I noticed a lot of Santa Claus sculptures on your site and in other site galleries, from a Santa holding a Christmas tree with what appears to be an evil snowman perched on his right shoulder, to Old St. Nick carrying fruits whilst wearing a tired expression. What fascinates you about the Santa Claus character? Does it stem from childhood memories and the magical elements of Christmas time, religious views or the simple popularity in today’s holiday pop culture of the man in red?
SS: I grew up with the Coca-Cola Santa as my ideal of the Jolly Old Elf, but as I started collecting the antiques, I learned of many other styles. There are numerous legends and variations of Santa in European histories which were later adopted by us here in the United States. Learning about the different customs often gives me ideas or direction for new Santas and other Christmas characters.
GALO: Apart from Santas, what other Christmas sculptures might one find in your whimsical studio – do you also craft any New Year’s oriented sculptures? And do you have a particular favorite that you crafted this year (or one that you are most proud of), if yes, what is the story behind it?
SS: Besides Santas, I try to work on a few out-of-the-ordinary characters, and one particular favorite is a devil-like fellow named Krampus. Austrian legends tell that while St. Nicholas rewarded the good children, Krampus would take care of those who were not so well-behaved. Once I learned of this story, I fell in love with the idea and as a result make new Krampus pieces each year.
GALO: When we last spoke, you told us that you create Halloween sculptures all year round. Is the same true for your Christmas sculptures or is it more of a seasonal engagement? And do any of them end up as your own decorations around the home and/or on the tree?
SS: I usually begin creating Christmas pieces in November, and the long Michigan winters keep me inspired well into March. Once spring arrives, I make the switch to Halloween. Some pieces do in fact become part of my own collection. Such is the case with “The Christmas Fantasy” –Santa coming out of the antique clock case surrounded by gold frames and other toys. This is a display I created in our house for this year.
GALO: You founded the Ghoultide Gathering in Michigan to celebrate Halloween. Have you thought about creating a similar festival for Christmas in your hometown or elsewhere? If not, is this a possibility for the future?
SS: I do have dreams someday of having a Yuletide Gathering, but doing just the one show keeps me busy year-round and for now there just isn’t enough time between the two holidays.
GALO: During the holiday season, many people love to give ornaments and decorations as gifts. Have you considered making limited collection ornaments and selling them through stores or online, aside from your sculptures during the holiday season? Or perhaps this is something that you already do?
SS: In the beginning of Rucus Studio I made more ornaments and even did a few limited edition pieces. I sell a few ornament type pieces each year in the Kriskindlemart at The Golden Glow of Christmas Past (an antique Christmas collectors club which holds an annual convention in July each year).
GALO: We know that many of your sculptures are available through markets and online sales on your site/blog. For any last minute or tardy shoppers, or for ones who are already thinking of gifts and decorations for next year, can you share with us where they can currently find your Christmas works?
SS: I do my best to host a few online shows each year. The last was held in November and featured both Halloween and Christmas works (http://rucusstudioshop.blogspot.com). As the holiday gets closer, it is harder to accommodate last-minute purchases, but you never know, there may be a piece or two around just waiting for a good home. For those planning early next year, they can look at the schedule on my Web site to see where I will be showing in 2014.
For more information about Scott Smith’s artwork, please visit http://www.rucusstudio.com/.