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“They’re Santas, not dolls,” said artist Gayle Marquess of Neptune’s Garden Gallery in Kukuihaele. “I never played with dolls, but I’ve been a fan of Santa my whole life. He’s just such a good guy.”
As a little girl, the self-proclaimed tomboy would watch her family’s big stuffed Santa toy change as the rainbow wheel turned and colored their Christmas tree, making up stories about his gifting adventures around the world. Today, as an artist, she still makes up Santa stories as she creates her imaginatively detailed heirloom Santas.
A lifelong crafter and professional stained glass artist, Marquess started making Santas a few years ago, when she was decorating her Kona gallery for the holidays. “Anything that stood still got decorated,” she said. With festive materials she had on hand, a little bit of curly white beard, tiny buttons and glittery trim, soon Santa himself began to appear. At first very traditional, the jolly old elves soon evolved into a wonderful cast of island-style characters.
“We make them all year long,” said Marquess. Each Santa, large or small, is individually crafted and signed, and each has his own personality. Surfing Santa sports a koa board, shaped by Dave Anderson of Hawaii Wood Creations in Honokaa; Paniolo Santa wears a sheepskin jacket and carries a kerosene lantern; Honu Santa rides a whimsical hand-carved sea turtle. Mr. and Mrs. Santa wear coordinated aloha shirt and muu muu, sewn by Marquess and her seamstress team. Santa’s beards come from Hawaiian Home Grown Wool Company, almost all from the same sheep, “Sherman.”
Originally from Oregon, Marquess came to Hawaii more than 35 years ago and has provided works of stained glass art to numerous churches, homes and restaurants. In addition to her art work, she runs Kalanai Kennels, raising golden retrievers on a property overlooking Waipio Valley—a home she shares with 10 dogs, 20 cows, a flock of chickens, and the 500-plus Santas she brings to life each year.
Marquess sells Santas from her shop, Neptune’s Garden Gallery in Kukuihaele, as well as craft fairs and events island wide. She also does two large shows on Oahu each year, including the Made In Hawaii Festival, where she is always happy to reconnect with wholesale and individual clients. Next Friday and Saturday, she and the Santas will be in Hilo for the Na Makua Invitational Christmas Gift Fair at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
The Santas have traveled far and wide, and now live in Japan, Australia, many European countries and most of the 50 states. Some were created by special request, such as those for a woman with three sons, each living in a different part of the world: Hawaii, Japan and Texas. All three were unique to the region they represented, yet similar enough to be brothers.
“I still make up Santa stories,” said Marquess, pointing to a current favorite, Mr. and Mrs. Claus with a bunch of Dalmatian puppies, posing by an elaborate Christmas tree. “She’s decorating the tree and the dogs are pulling the ornaments off as fast as she can put them on,” she said. “To me, Christmas is about those kinds of crazy moments, the ones that you remember.”
Neptune’s Garden is located on Kukuihaele Road, just one mile before the Waipio Lookout, open 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. In addition to Santas, the store is home to mystical mermaids and hula girls, stained glass art and gifts, as well as woven wool items, artistic orchid pots and other creations by Josh Black. For more information, visit www.neptunesgarden.net or call 775-1343.