They are the lowly sentinels of the suburban backyard, creatures so maligned that they tend to be stolen on a regular basis.
But these days, garden gnomes are big business.
A French group called “The Garden Gnome Liberation Front” popularized the practice of “returning garden gnomes to the wild,” stealing them from unsuspecting owners and photographing their adventures around the world. The idea was so kooky, Travelocity eventually built a viral video ad campaign around the now famous Roaming Gnome.
To Find Out More About How You Can “Stand Up for Heroes” Please Visit Our Special Section
“Nightline” traveled to the workshop of Shawn Thorsson, a U.S. Navy reservist from Petaluma, Calif. He was on his way to Afghanistan when inspiration struck sometime around 3 a.m.
“I’m on the bridge standing watch where there’s nothing out there except for me and the horizon,” he said. “And I just started writing down notes for different kinds of goofy concepts that I could come up with for garden gnomes.”
Thorsson started to think about those little green plastic Army soldiers he had played with as a kid.
Combat Garden Gnomes were born.
“Aside from the fact that they’ve got grenades and rocket launchers, they are just like any other garden gnome,” he said. “Little red hats and little white beards, the whole show.”
This band of heavily armed, small bearded men comes in all the same poses as those toy soldiers: standing rifleman, kneeling rifleman, flamethrower gnome and others. Thorsson said he has sold about 1,500 of these little figurines at $50 a pop through the online marketplace Etsy. All of the gnomes are hand-made in Petaluma. See more of his creations HERE.
“The next one was RPG guy,” he said. “I’ve got one that’s sort of the officer with the pistol in the ‘follow me’ pose, you know, flamethrower gnome.”
He has plans for a parachute gnome that will dangle from backyard trees. He is already planning to make special forces garden gnomes. Think Rambo with a shaggy white mullet and Fu Manchu moustache.
“He’ll be the first one that has no shirt, just big crisscrossed ammo belts and the M60 machine gun standing there at the ready,” Thorsson said.
Or SEALTeam 6 gnomes in full scuba gear crawling their way out of the pond. Thorsson said, “He will be in a wet suit, hunched down, you know, like he’s coming up on the beach with his flippers hanging off an arm, little MP5 machine gun.”
Quirky garden sculptures are in big demand. Flip-through the Sky Mall catalogue and you’ll see they can command top dollar. And Thorsson is not the only gnome maker to take creative license. One of his competitors makes Zombie Garden Gnomes, including a version where the zombie gnomes devour a pink flamingo.
It took a few years for business to catch on, but Thorsson said he now can’t make Combat Garden Gnomes fast enough.
“After the first 20 took so long to get rid of I thought, ‘well that’s a stupid idea, never mind, the world does not need armed garden gnomes,” he said. “It turns out after the world found out about them, they do.”
And anyone who tries to liberate these heavily armed little lawn ornaments better be prepared for a fight.