Work turns up some famous Old World names, and a mysterious signature...
The leaders of the Santa's Castle exhibit in Storm Lake are already hard at work for the 2002 season, rehabilitating the classic animation pieces one at a time.
"We are desperately in need of a volunteer with some expertise in electric motors to help with the characters," said Linda Kay, who leads the project along with Gwen Bergandoff.
Other needs include lighting and painting at the exhibit's home, the former Carnegie Library in Storm Lake.
An all-new exhibit is being planned for the next season, complete with a Christmas Forest and a Santa's workshop.
An animation professional from New York was called in last week, placing the value of the characters at $300,000 or more. Since then, Kay and Bergandoff have discovered hidden tags and signatures on pieces they are restoring, indicating that they originated with the most renowned masters of the early animation art craft in Italy and Germany. A few of the pieces apparently even predate the invention of animation characters in the 1920s.
Even the expert is stumped by one character, a fox with built-in-glass eyes. As the women removed the outer coverings to restore the character, they found a large signature they presume dates to its maker. Unlike the other pieces, the character is made around a body of carved hardwood. They have photographed the markings on the fox in hopes of researching its origins.
The women hope to have as many pieces as possible restored to their original appearance by the 2002 season of the exhibit. They have relied on several local people who were active with the exhibit in its early years to determine the original use of the characters. Addition of new items in the display is also being considered, although the current site is large enough for only a portion of the entire collection.
The chamber of commerce is considering making the Santa's Castle exhibit a year-around tourism attraction to showcase the near-priceless holiday animation collection, and the experts in animation and curator exhibits have urged that the site might eventually be transformed into a museum of the holiday arts.
Anyone wishing to volunteer with the restoration project or the building needs is urged to call the Chamber of Commerce at 732-3780. Donations or sponsorships toward the cost of restoration or operations are also welcome.