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Column: Gnome exhibit interest's in garden decor's origin

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Last winter we took our grandkids to the Garfield Park Conservatory to see a special exhibit, “Gnome Away From Home.” The curators had acquired 74 garden and lawn gnomes, mostly on loan, and placed them among the plants and flowers in the conservatory.

The challenge was to find them all and check them off the list. Some were easy to spot, and some were not. It was great fun for the kids to search the exotic fauna for the colorful, quirky statues, and the adults enjoyed it, as well. Ever since that outing, my wife has had tucked away in the garden of her mind the idea that she would like a gnome at home to call her own.

So a couple of weeks ago we paid a visit to Yard Art in Taylorsville. You’ve seen the place from the highway on your way to the outlet mall near Edinburgh. They have tons, literally, of concrete statues, sculptures, plaques and other objects all very well organized by category.

After we inquired, we were lead to the gnome section.

We knew right away that the small gnome sitting on a log reading a book was the creature for our garden. We chose the colors for our concrete gray gnome and came back in just a few days to pick him up freshly and colorfully glazed. He looks so good, we haven’t placed him in our garden just yet.

I was vaguely aware that gnomes have their own following among humans and have found out a bit more since acquiring ours. I learned a group founded in 1997 in Europe, the Front de libération des nains de jardins (FLNJ), is dedicated to “rescuing” imprisoned garden gnomes — all in fun, of course.

The 2000 movie “Amélie” plays off this by having a character take a kidnapped gnome to exotic places around the world and sending photos of it to its owner. I wonder if this is where Tavelocity got the idea for its Roaming Gnome advertising character. (spokesgnome?) And for those of you who are gnutty about gnomes, International Gnome Day is coming up June 21.

Gnomes are part of ancient European oral folklore. They were said to be earth-dwelling spirits who guarded mines and underground treasures. Another tradition depicts them as helpers in gardens.

The first known writings about gnomes was by Paracelsus in the 16th century who possibly made a spelling error. Perhaps he was thinking of the Latin “genomos” which is itself derived from the Greek for “earth-dweller.” If that is the case, he left out the “E” after the “G.” Other scholars believe he may have spelled it that way on purpose.

In any case, one of my favorite details about this character we have acquired is the word itself: “gnome.” There is no question in my mind that the silent “G” along with an “N” at the beginning is very cool. I started thinking about other words with a silent “GN” combination at the start and came up with “gnu,” and “gnaw.” My wife offered “gnat” and I remembered “gneiss” (a type of rock) from college geology class. A quick dictionary check added “gnarled” and “gnash.” “Gnostic,” which has to do with knowledge, is a word found often in religious writing, and is the root for “agnostic.” Come to think of it, “knowledge” has a silent letter combination at the beginning, as well. Fascinating.

A silent “K” followed by an “N” is near to my heart, as that is how my last name starts. Thinking about it, since my first name is Norman, if I were a modern celebrity I might consider changing it to Gnorman Knight. Uh, no, after further thought, I don’t think I would. At any rate, there is no reason our garden protector, earth-dweller and gnew friend shouldn’t be called “Gnome Knight.”

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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