Building a village

Two Marshall families have been collecting Christmas village buildings for years. Now they’re sharing their collections at the Lyon County Museum.

It took a couple of days to set up. But in some ways, the wintry scene on the upper level of the Lyon County Museum was years in the making.

On tables stretching along one wall of the museum space, visitors can see a whole neighborhood in miniature — houses, churches, shops, a train station, and even a snowmobile dealership. The display is made up of Department 56 Christmas village buildings and figures collected by Art and Louise Olson and Neal and Nancy Ingebrigtson of Marshall. The Olsons and Ingebrigtsons have both collected Christmas village pieces over the years, and now they’re sharing part of their collections with the public.

“It’s here for people to enjoy if they like it,” Neal Ingebrigtson said.

Ingebrigtson and Art Olson talked about the village collections earlier this week.

Lighted ceramic buildings have been a popular Christmas decoration for many years, and Department 56 is one of the most well-known companies making collectible Christmas villages. According to the company’s website, Department 56 started out as the gifts division of Bachman’s, a family-owned Minneapolis florist business. In 1976, Department 56 released a set of six lighted porcelain buildings that together made a snow-covered village scene. Since then, the company — now headquartered in Eden Prairie — has produced dozens of buildings in several different Christmas village lines.

Olson and Ingebrigtson said they had been collecting village buildings for a long time.

“Nancy and I started 35 or 40 years ago, when we started to get Hallmark ornaments,” Ingebrigtson said. At the time, Hallmark would make Christmas ornaments shaped like village buildings, and the Ingebrigtsons built a small Christmas village using the ornaments, he said.

Eventually, they also started collecting Department 56’s larger style of buildings.

Olson said he started collecting village buildings “probably 25 years ago, if not more.”

“I was at an auction by our lake home,” Olson said, and one of the lots up for bid was a set of seven Department 56 village buildings from 1984. The set from that year was designed like an English village in the time of Charles Dickens. “I’m not sure why, but I bought it,” Olson said.

The Olsons’ village collection grew over time, as well.

Some of the village pieces on display at the museum are older or hard to find, Olson and Ingebrigtson said. Olson pointed out a police station in the display, which dates back to 1989.

Ingebrigtson said one house in the display is a limited edition, made in honor of Department 56’s roots at Bachman’s.

“I think that was the only place it was available,” he said. The house is a replica of the real-life Bachman family homestead. According to the Bachman’s company website, the homestead was built in the 1890s, and stood near 60th and Lyndale in Minneapolis.

The Christmas villages were fun, but Ingebrigtson and Olson said they’ve started downsizing their collections.

“It does take space,” Ingebrigtson said. Over the years, he and Nancy gave part of their collection to their children. Some of those pieces are currently on display at the museum.

Olson and Ingebrigtson said some of the village display will probably stay with the Lyon County Museum permanently. Olson said he got the idea to donate part of his collection, after hearing a news story about a person with an even bigger Department 56 collection donating their village to a museum.

By donating the village pieces to the Lyon County Museum, “They go someplace people could appreciate them,” Olson said.

Displays of holiday decorations, including the Christmas villages, the Indoor Christmas Tree Walk, and vintage ornaments contributed by Ann Carrow, Beverly Kenyon and Barb Zick, will be on display at the museum through Dec. 31.

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