It’s rare to see a Rock City gnome outside of Lookout Mountain’s Fairyland Caverns, but one made the trek down this week appearing at Little Miss Mag Child Care Center.
An obvious member of the Rock City family of gnomes, this gnome appears to be painting a message on a playground barn inside the gate of the new 225 Lookout St. location.
The gnome refused to comment about the nature of the message, however executive director of the center, Johanne Albright, alluded to a future announcement regarding the gnome.
“The playground, we hope, will become a certified nature explore classroom,” she said. “So, the gnome is sitting on the art barn.”
Albright said the purpose of the gnome will be revealed once he is finished painting his message. This could take a few weeks, she said.
Little Miss Mag is currently in its third location since opening in 1917. The company’s mission is to nurture “the preschool child of working parents at an affordable cost.” The center was one of the first day care centers for the children of working mothers in the city.
Albright is enthusiastic to bring life to the new location.
“It’s exciting to have a wonderful new building and have a nature explore classroom,” she said. “We’re still trying to finish this beautiful playground.”
Gnomes, specifically garden gnomes, are cunning and inventive creatures. They are known to possess a certain air of magic and are thought of as humanlike, subterranean dwellers. Chattanooga is full of these bearded miniatures, but the most famous gnomes are found at Rock City.
Making the gnome
Matthew Dutton is an art specialist at Rock City Gardens. He is responsible for creating the gnomes in his workshop.
Dutton said this gnome will paint a “classic message from a Rock City barn” at the playground.
“The point of the gnome is to bring attention to something that is happening,” he said. “We’re going to use a classic barn message.”
Dutton has made at least 20 gnomes during his tenure at Rock City Gardens. For this gnome, he had to construct every piece.
“I built the gnome,” he said. “I made the ladder from scratch…and then built the gnome to fit the ladder.”
Using clay for the individual parts, Dutton makes the arm, head, neck and body as separate pieces. He uses a silicone mold and cast of urethane resin.
“All the gnomes are hollow,” he said. “I do a think that’s kind of unique, a resin manipulation, where I pull out the body part premature so that the resin is a liquid.”
This allows Dutton to manipulate the parts before they solidify.
“That’s how I got the gnome to be tip-toeing on the ladder,” he said.
The mysterious painting gnome is currently hard at work on his “message” and can be viewed from the Hunter Museum or the the sidewalk of Riverfront Drive.