By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
All year long, Dale Schmidt is surrounded by the spirit Santa Claus – more specifically by 700 Kris Kringles at last count.
Schmidt, a retired art teacher who lives in Bowling Green, started out as an accidental collector about 40 years ago.
“I think it just kind of occurred,” he said. “I had a couple things and I realized – I have a collection.”
A small portion of that collection is on display in the windowed showcase at the front entrance of Wood County District Public Library, at 251 N. Main St., Bowling Green. The Santas will remain on display there until Dec. 18.
Schmidt has tried to go cold turkey in his quest for Santa Clauses. But who can resist the kindly faces, the flowing white beards – and great bargains.
“There have been times I’ve stopped and then started again,” he said. “Once you’re a collector, always a collector.”
Schmidt’s and his wife, Donna, married after he already had his collection underway. So she knew what she was getting into – kind of, he said. Does she share his love of Santa Claus?
“Well, yes and no,” Schmidt conceded.
She wouldn’t mind cutting back on the collecting and regaining some of the couple’s storage space at home.
“I’ve got stack and stacks of bins of Santas in the storeroom,” Schmidt said, not to mention the four display cases in their home. “That’s been a major bone of contention with my wife.”
She has even remarked that “they look the same,” Schmidt said.
That’s close to blasphemy for a true collector.
Besides, how can Schmidt resist the jolly old man himself – at a reasonable price. “If I see a bargain, I’m lured into it.”
Schmidt can’t exactly pinpoint why Santa Clauses caught his attention, but he suspects it was because of the magical feeling that came with Christmas when he was growing up in East Cleveland.
“When I was a kid, Christmas was rather important,” he recalled. One of the few holiday treasures he remembers was a paper mache Santa with his sleigh made in the 1930s, that sat in the family’s fireplace.
He can still picture the stunning holiday displays in department store windows in downtown Cleveland. And he remembers the three-story tall Christmas tree that would be decorated at the Sterling Linder Davis department store every December.
It wasn’t that Christmases meant a mountain of toys for the young Schmidt. “Toys were a little hard to come by,” he said.
But as a boy, he never forgot to leave a treat for Santa on his busiest night of the year.
“I always put a bottle of Coke and cookies out for Santa,” he said.
Schmidt’s collection comes from all over the world – Germany, Switzerland, Philippines, Japan, China and Canada. And they are from various time periods.
“My mission was to have from the turn of the century to present day,” he said.
Many were created in traditional cottage industries, prior to World War I and then prior to World War II. They were handmade with one person sculpting the Santa, one person creating the face, and another painting the jolly old man.
Schmidt is rather particular, preferring handmade creations.
“I have a number of pieces that were made just for me,” he said. And he has formed friendships with some of the artists.
One German Santa Claus is wearing lederhosen, hiking boots, and a knitted sweater and cap.
“It’s delightful,” he said.
There are Ohio State Santas, wearing Woody Hayes caps. A Santa from Texas, made from lamp pieces. And folk art Santas carved from wood.
His most expensive Santa? Probably the antique one with a reindeer that cost $1,300. “We pooled our credit cards together,” Schmidt said of himself and his wife.
His favorite Santa? “Probably the latest one is the favorite,” he said with a grin.
The sign with his display at the library explains the reason behind Schmidt’s collection. It reads, “I believe in Santa Claus.”
“It’s been a delight,” he said.