The two-punch miniature art of Mister Christmas

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It all started, appropriately enough for a guy called “Mr. Christmas”, with a holiday present for his girlfriend. “I had the idea of ​​building this little Christmas village, remembers Scott Hildebrandt. “I put it under glass, under this little cake dome. I have a bit of electrical engineering experience – just enough to be dangerous – and I lit the thing. She loved it. This 2008 giveaway was the start of an artistic journey that led to a successful career and now a major exhibition at Denver’s meow wolf.

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The Christmas diorama that started it all.

Scott Hildebrandt

“It was just a fun thing, a little hobby,” says Hildebrandt. The idea came from his childhood, when he worked alongside his grandfather to put together an old train with intricate details. “It put me on the path to miniatures,” he explains. “And that led to models, LEGO sets, army men, all that fun stuff. The culmination of love for everything started to flow through my work with vintage Christmas pieces , and that led to the miniature work I am doing now.

He’s not called Mister Christmas for his miniature work, however. This name predates Hildebrandt’s artistic career by several years. “I have had a super elaborate light display that I do at home every year,” he notes. “I started this in the early 2000s. It’s computer controlled and syncs certain songs to the light display. If you connect an FM transmitter to it, you can broadcast it. I just put up a sign in the front yard – log into 88.3 and you can catch the Mister Christmas show if you walk past.

The shift from creating large Christmas displays for family and friends to miniatures for the public was not immediate; Hildebrandt had a 25-year career in IT before a garage sale prompted him to take a new direction. “I bought an old wooden radio, and it came with a donor radio so you could use it as spare parts to restore the first one, which I did,” he says. “When I was done, I had an empty shell. of that nice old tombstone radio, and the bulb went on: I could reuse that. This is what pushed me down the path I am now, taking old things like radios, clocks or televisions that weren’t working and throwing them out to make room for my love for miniatures. and electronics. It became a challenge for me to make those old things into something new.

Click to enlarge A diorama of Union Station.  - MATT SWIM

A diorama of Union Station.

Matt swim

He started to create one after another. These are “adult dioramas inside nostalgic vintage containers,” he says, and making them is almost like “building a memory inside a memory.”

Hildebrandt has no interest in putting people in his landscapes. “The street lights are on, or there may be a light on in this store, but there is no one in it,” he says. “There might be a little dog in the window, but that was it. He attracted people; this led them to ask questions like, “Why is the light on in this store?” Or, “I wonder if this dog wants to come home?” Or, ‘Is it going to rain?’ Miniatures do that to people. You are able to enter it yourself, to create your own narrative, like you did when you were a child. ”

The nostalgic element has become central in Hildebrandt’s work. “I’m an ’80s kid, so I used boomboxes, music players, Gameboys and stuff like that,” he says. He’s challenged himself in other ways as well, using more complex and unique LED lighting, like the pinhole night sky he used, or the robotics that allows movement in a display – sometimes in a subtle way, sometimes in a way that makes up the personality of a room. .

This was all really just a hobby until Hildebrandt exhibited his work at the Holiday ManCraft 2015 show hosted by the Ink Salon screen printing workshop. “These were craft fairs just for the guys – fifty of us made stuff like ceramics and leather belts and hot sauce and t-shirts,” he says. “It was there that I met the director of Cherry Creek Arts Festival. She went downstairs to check things out and stopped by my booth. She asked me why I wasn’t applying for a booth at CCAF, and I laughed and said, “Because I’m at a craft fair… and that’s silly stuff, but I love to do it. And she said it was art and I really needed to apply. Hildebrandt followed the suggestion of CCAF director Tara Brickell, applied for the 2016 festival and secured one of five places for emerging artists. That year he won the Best of Show.

“It was validation: it was art,” Hildebrandt recalls. He quit his day job and entered the art world full time. “I gave myself twelve months to see what would happen… Years later, I’m still here, still doing this. ”

Since then, the popularity of his work has grown steadily. “It’s kind of a double-barreled blow,” Hildebrandt says of his fans’ reaction to his work. Some of them first recognize the ship before marveling at the miniature world inside. It also happens the other way around. “I get people looking at a room and saying they like the cityscape they see and then they step back and notice that, hey, it’s inside a boombox,” he explains. -he. “Then I remember with people what they remember and what was important to them, and I love the opportunity to connect with people on that level.

And then came Meow Wolf. “It was at the end of 2017; I received this email randomly, ”recalls Hildebrandt. “It was someone saying they were from Meow Wolf, asking me if I wanted to submit a proposal for the Denver location. I thought it was totally wrong. I was getting all these emails from myself. – saying galleries saying they liked my work and would like to show it if I wanted to pay them $ 2,500. He showed these emails to his contacts at CCAF, who confirmed that they were ‘scams and warned him not to approach. “So I was pretty skeptical and kind of ditched the Meow Wolf case until the very last day. And that day, I remember thinking, “It would really suck if it was real and I just ignore it.” So I took the day and until midnight when it was due, and sent them a proposal, and they loved it.

Click to enlarge An Atari Ferris Wheel.  - NICHOLAS BUCKINGHAM

An Atari Ferris Wheel.

Nicolas buckingham

What Hildebrandt ended up building for Meow Wolf Denver is “pretty much exactly what I originally came up with,” he says. “It’s over 200 separate dioramas, all built into radios, televisions, clocks, cameras, stuff like that reused, all built into the walls on either side of the hallway. Seventeen feet long, ten feet high, twelve feet wide. The theme is sky, land and sea. The dioramas include play of light, movement and sound, and the whole is a meticulously planned experience with miniatures.

With the Meow Wolf installation behind him, Hildebrandt is back to work on smaller projects for sale on his website or Instagram. But his reputation is anything but miniature, and Mister Christmas is finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the demand for his unique call to nostalgia.

“It humbles me to hear how coins affect people,” he says. “There is nothing like it in the world.”

Discover Scott Hildebrandt’s work on his website or on his Instagram.

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