The first garden gnomes were made in Gräfenroda,a town known for its ceramics in Thuringia, Germany in the mid-1800s. Philip Griebel made terracotta animals as decorations, and produced gnomes based on local myths as a way for people to enjoy the stories of the gnomes' willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby. Gnome manufacture spread across Germany with numerous other large and small manufacturers coming into and out of the business, each one having its own particular style of design. World War II was hard on the industry and most producers gave up then. Griebel's descendants still make them and are the last of the German producers, all others having moved production to Poland or China. Currently, there are an estimated 25 million garden gnomes in Germany.
Garden gnomes have become a popular accessory in many gardens. They are often the target of pranks, known collectively as gnoming: people have been known to return garden gnomes "to the wild", most notably France's "Front de Liberation des Nains de Jardins" and Italy's "MALAG" (Garden Gnome Liberation Front). Some kidnapped garden gnomes have been sent on trips around the world (the travelling gnome prank; this later became the basis for Travelocity's "Roaming Gnome"). In 2008, a 53-year-old French man in Brittany was arrested on suspicion of stealing upwards of 170 garden gnomes.
The practice of stealing garden gnomes is also sometimes referred to as "Gnome Hunting".
It has been suggested by some scholars that the garden gnome is a descendant of the Greco-Roman fertility god Priapus, whose statue was often found in ancient gardens. Take a webcam photo with 'Garden Gnome Stud' online photo booth! -Added November 30, 2008
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