Department 56 artist and Executive Director of Product Design, Kristi Jensen Pierro has always loved many genres of fine art but is especially fond of figure drawing. Her subjects, while varied, have always reflected the activities of small children. So when she was hired to design the Snowbabies it was a wonderful opportunity to showcase these talents.
Kristi's ideas for Snowbabies are inspired by real childhood experiences and amusing things that all children do while playing in the snow. She makes rough sketches and refines her ideas into actual illustrations. Next, Kristi makes scale drawings – of each side, top and bottom. Along the way, she adds little touches that make each Snowbabies collectible unique whether it be a figurine, a waterglobe, an ornament or a musical piece.
The original inspiration for this charming collection comes from the arctic quest of American explorer Admiral Robert Peary who reached the North Pole in 1909. For the past 21 years, Kristi has put a little of herself into each design, and is looking forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary and the opportunities to highlight the original Snowbaby, Peary’s daughter, Marie Ahnighito Peary.
When asked what her favorite new piece for this year might be she smiled, “all of them. I have a story in mind of each one when I draw it, and many times the story changes for the person who buys the piece. I love to talk with our collectors to hear their stories. They inspire me.”
Story Time With Kristi
Kristi Jensen Pierro has been drawing Snowbabies since 1986. “The drawing is the easy part once we come up with the ideas.”
“We try to divide the designs by themes; gift giving, celebrations of special and everyday occasions, pastimes and those other characters who visit the Snowbabies in Frosty Frolic Land. From there we set up a plan of how many pieces to add to the line and refine the list from our ideas. It has been great to work on some of the licensed pieces because they each have a special story to tell. Pooh, Mickey Mouse and the Sesame Street characters are all very well known, and having them interact with the Snowbabies is a delight.”
We asked Kristi to share with us where she gets her inspiration for new designs. “When my own children were young they would inspire me daily. Now that they’re older, I get help from a variety of sources.” (Kristi’s two beautiful daughters are now 14 and 18). “Some of my friends still have little ones, some have grandchildren, employees and store owners offer ideas, and then there are those great collectors who bring pictures to open house events and send photos to me in the mail.”
Once the ideas are discussed Kristi sets to work drawing rough sketches that are discussed by Product Marketing and our Production team. “Sometimes the sketch is good but it may not be possible to translate into porcelain so we adjust our ideas.” When the design is approved she draws the figure from all sides to show the sculptors every detail possible.
The sculpting is done in one of our studios in the Orient. Great care is taken by the sculptors to put the feeling that Kristi is trying to convey into the clay. “Once the sculpture is approved the next step is to make a mold from the original clay and the piece goes into production.” Each piece is hand molded in porcelain bisque and details are hand painted.
Then the figurine is carefully boxed and sent to our warehouse where orders for the retail stores are filled.
Frequently Asked Questions For Kristi Jensen Pierro
1. I love the new Snowbabies sporting the colored caps and scarves. What was your inspiration for this?
“I’m really glad you like the new knitted accents. Every year after Thanksgiving dinner, my Grandmother would clear the dishes and ask us to sit around the table, adults and children. She would flatten our hands out on a piece of clean white paper. Then, while firmly holding our squirmy hands down, she would gently draw around our hands. This was the pattern she used to knit our Christmas Mittens. I still have the last pair of mittens that she gave me, in tissue, unused. It’s like holding a little piece of love.”
2. My favorite new piece in Snowbabies is “Up, Up And Away”. You’ve outdone yourself with this one, I can’t wait to add this piece as a centerpiece on the dining room table. How did you come up with the idea?
“Thank you. I can see this as the centerpiece on a table or a mantle as well. The inspiration was an image on an old Victorian postcard I found in an antique store. I’m always on the look out for old figurines, images and books to inspire my work.”
3. Kristi, I have a good friend who is a Snowbabies collector and will be a grandmother for the first time this summer. What do you suggest as a perfect gift?
“Congratulations to your friend! My friends who are grandmothers have a special bond with this generation. There are many pieces that come to mind. The new “Baby On Board” (795974), “Welcome Little Star” (56.67919) with a star that you can add the baby’s name to when it arrives, and “Shhh … Baby Dreaming” (795977) would be perfect as a gift to a new grandmother, or for a new mother.”
4. Do you take suggestions? I love the guests you have added to the Snowbabies line over the years, especially the Disney pieces. You’ve done many of the princesses – Cinderella, Ariel, Belle and Snow White. Any chance you might do one of the princes – Eric from “Little Mermaid”, Prince Charming from “Snow White”?
“Thank you, everyone loves the princesses. Of course any time we do a licensed character we need to receive permission from the
company that owns the rights to the character.”