The magic and warmth of the holiday is shared through giving gifts from the heart, or something made by hand. Local artist Dave Snyder uses both to create collectible figurines for the holidays.
What started out as a challenge by Snyder's wife, Janet, over an article about a dentist that quit his practice to carve Santa figurines full time, turned into an artist's love for the medium.
"Not just anyone could do that," Janet Snyder recalled saying to her husband when he scoffed at the article. "It's not that I doubted his abilities, he's always been artistic," she laughed. "But I sure knew I couldn't do it."
"So, I set out to show her I could," Snyder said, lighting his pipe with a smile. "I took out my pocket knife and carved a broomstick into a Santa."
Using simple hand tools and countless blocks of wood, Snyder began to teach himself the art of wood carving. He never uses patterns, choosing to let each design come to life on its own as it emerges from the wood. The early creations became gifts for family and friends, the originals have always gone to Janet, filling their home with the holiday spirit.
"The first few were a little crude, but I began to improve enough that people wanted to buy them," said Snyder, whose growing business, "Almost Christmas", was born in 2002. But creating each piece in bass wood took too long for individual sales. "The demand was just too much to keep up with."
With the help of a local college, family and friends, he decided upon a new system of delivery for his customers: high quality resin duplicates of his carvings.
Snyder spends countless hours carving at least six new Santas a year. Three are then chosen and used to create molds to cast resin duplicates of each design for the year's new holiday collection. The resin casts are then finely detailed through a cleaning process, hand painted and then signed by the artist, adding to each piece's collectibility.
The Snyder family poured their own resin casts in the beginning but now have contracted a firm to perform the time-consuming task.
"Janet, who put her dental hygienist skills with small tools to good use, would spend hours cleaning the resin casts," Snyder said, smiling at the memory. "She'd come in from the work area completely covered in white dust."
"Jamee Reberger hand paints each Santa," he continued, explaining the detailing process. "I paint a few myself. My daughter-in-law does them as well, but Jamee does the most."
Each individual brush stroke, applied under the watchful eye of Snyder, means it can take up to three hours to paint the fur on Santa's coat. This attention to detail is what makes Snyder's work so popular with collectors.
"If I can, I'll try to do whatever the customer wants when it comes to specialty items," Snyder said, holding up a Northview Santa and another decorated with a Harley Davidson design. "
Decorated for Colts fans, favorite college alma maters or whatever a customer wants, Snyder's Santas wear a variety of whimsical attire, but never lose the warmth and love he feels for the holiday.
Local customers had the opportunity to view the delightful Almost Christmas display during the Popcorn Festivals of the previous two years and visit with the artist while working on new designs.
"I loved sitting out there, carving and enjoying the conversation of people." Snyder said. "It's especially nice to hear people say they leave their Santas out year round."
Snyder, who is an Exclusive Agent for Allstate Insurance Co., plans to expand the operation to accommodate the demand for his work by customers throughout the nation, and a few around the world. "I have hopes of bigger things, but we want to maintain the hometown touch while providing our customers a nice collectible at a good price."