The nutcrackers that we are used to seeing at Christmas time, we call the
wooden toy soldier nutcrackers even though they come in many different
characters besides the traditional soldier. These nutcrackers were seen in
many homes in the Erzgebirge (the mountainous region in the eastern part of
Germany which borders the Czech Republic) even before 1800. This was a
mining region, and during the long winter months, the men spent their time
making wooden products for the family. It was tradition that a nutcracker in
the window kept the family safe from evil spirits and danger. The first
nutcrackers were made in the design of kings and soldiers. They were made by
common folk, who liked to have the kings and soldiers working for them,
cracking their nuts.
Why do they have such a mean toothy look? To make a nutcracker work, the working lever had to be put into the head part. To do this, it had to be sawed in straight lines, so the teeth and mouth opening had to be square. This made a stern look instead of a smiling mouth.
It takes about 130 different procedures to make a nutcracker, from the cutting of the wood to the final packaging. The trees have to be selected from a certain altitude so the growth rings are just right...not to close as in trees grown on mountain tops, and not to wide as trees grown in warmer climates. The wood has be cut to certain thicknesses, and left to be dried for several years outside, and more inside. Then it has to be cut into smaller dimensions before being turned on the lathes to make the round shapes. Many of the pieces will be turned on automatic lathes that are very very expensive, and have to be programmed by experts each time a different shape is made. Different cutting blades have to be used for the many shapes for bodies, arms, legs, and accessories. Some pieces are turned individually by hand. These workers have to be very well trained and go to school several years to learn how to do the woodworking.
The pieces are sanded and a base coat of shellac is applied. This seals the wood so the final painting will be smooth and not soak into the wood.. Then the pieces are sanded again before the more colorful paint is applied. After a day of drying, the pieces have to be assembled to make the nutcracker. Then the eyes, beard and hair is applied And finally, any accessories such as hats and guns are added.
There are many different designs today, and the makers all try to find a different design to please the collectors. You can find the traditional kings and soldiers along with story book characters such as the Cowardly Lion, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and Mr. Toad. You can find the characters from the Nutcracker Ballet, or you can find fireman, hunters, drummers, and skiers. And you can even find some girl nutcrackers, although they usually don’t open at the mouth, but under the chin. People don’t like to see a mean looking girl with big teeth, but like to have a girl with a pretty face!
Part of the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum
735 Front Street, Leavenworth, WA 98826
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