How Department 56 Christmas Villages Are Made

Department 56 Village Collectibles

Making of a Village

The Making of a Building

Step One: Scaled Drawings

Similar to a blueprint, scaled drawings are created for every piece. Each side is drawn in explicit detail, showing windows, shutters, doors, chimneys and special architectural features.

  • Research for authenticity is crucial. Artists use real buildings, magazines, architectural resources and photographs for their work. Rarely is a building duplicated exactly.
  • The artist sketches pencil drawings of each side of the piece.
  • Once the drawing has been approved by the artist and production staff, a color overlay is done. At this point, the prototype (paper) model is made.
The Making of a Building

Step Two: Prototype Model

A full size three dimensional paper model is made to show placement of attachments as well as to compare with other buildings in the village. This guide is crucial to the next step of manufacturing, which is sculpting.

  • The line sketches are given to a production artist who builds a three dimensional model of the piece, placing attachments in the appropriate places.
  • It is during this step the artist can make structural changes.
  • At this time, the production experts look at the piece to see if the design can be successfully produced in ceramic.
The Making of a Building

Step Three: Sculpting

Pieces take shape from clay, wax or plaster. The complicated, meticulous sculpting process can last many weeks. The main body of a building is sculpted first, followed by the detailing of each individual brick, roof tile and snowdrift. Most details that extend beyond the walls, such as chimneys, are separately sculpted. Requiring extreme precision, these sculpts will be attached at a later stage of production and must fit perfectly. Some buildings can require more than 25 different sculpted pieces!

  • Much of the sculpting is now done in the United States.
  • Most buildings are sculpted of a wax similar to wax used in designing jewelry. Others are done in clay or plaster.
  • Buildings are sculpted with separate pieces for each attachment.
  • The building is sculpted 5 - 15% larger than the desired finished piece to allow for shrinkage in the kiln (ceramic shrinks 5%, and porcelain shrinks 15%).
The Making of a Building

Step Four: Mold Making

The finished sculpted building is now ready for mold making. Through a complicated process, the sculpted building is transformed into prototype molds. A complete building is made from this prototype mold, assembled and then fired. This becomes the artist's "proof" to test the building in the kiln and to check for any imperfections. Once the fired building is approved, the mother mold is made. The mother mold is made of plaster and sealed against moisture. Production molds are produced from the mother mold. Depending upon the number of buildings produced, up to several hundred production molds may be needed to maintain the high degree of detail demanded by Department 56.

  • A mold is made for the main body and for each separate attachment.
  • Mold making is as much an art as the design process.
  • A "mother mold" is made from the prototype mold. This mold is made from plaster and then sealed against moisture.
  • "Production molds" are made from the mother mold. They are also made of plaster but are more porous than the mother mold.
  • Because the production mold is designed to absorb the moisture from the liquid clay slip, the mold has a relatively short life span.
The Making of a Building

Step Five: Hand Painting

The hand-painting stage of production is very labor intensive, requiring the ultimate concentration and patience from our highly skilled artisans. The various colors are applied directly to the fired ceramic.

  • Each piece is hand painted by a team of skilled artisans.
  • A second firing at a low temperature sets the paint.
  • Die-cast attachments and details are added after the second firing.

Common Questions and Technical Info

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