We see these little fellows in travel ads. We see them protecting gardens. Now they are popping up at antique malls, gift shops, craft and vendor shows, big box stores and other places for the holidays. They are gnomes!

What do we really know about these little creatures? "The name ‘gnome’ is said to come from the Latin word ‘gnomus,’ which is thought to possibly come from the Greek word ‘gnosis’ meaning "knowledge" (i.e. of hidden treasure), but is more likely rooted in the word ‘genomos’ meaning 'earth dweller,'" according to a website, www.zwergli.com/gnome-history-and-facts.html, a repository of gnomish facts and a picture gallery.

The site tells us that garden gnomes first appeared in the mid-19th century in the Thuringia region of Germany. Phillip Griebel, a maker of terracotta animals, is often given credit for producing some of the earliest figures of small, painted, bearded men with pointy red hats. Soon garden gnomes spread throughout Germany to France, Great Britain, and beyond.

"By World War I, the fad had crested," the site says, "and while the release of Walt Disney’s 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' in 1937 temporarily renewed interest in the figures, it was not until the tail end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries that the fad came roaring back, stimulated by mass-media accounts of gnomes travel adventures and other pranks."

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Cindy Habermann, a Rochester whimsy artist and a collector of whimsy art, said, "I love gnomes! I call them whimsical folk art. I have made them and found one at an antique store back in 1974. The one I made has a pine cone body! One of my favorites is 'Wee Forest Folk,' which is a whole series of gnomes ... little mice that look like gnomes."

Carol Loshek, co-owner of the Cottage Cupboard, season shop, 570 Franklin, Winona, said, "We will have a variety of gnome ornaments made by local artisans selling around $10 each. For our winter sale, we fill three trees with a variety of handmade ornaments usually priced $3 and up. Sale runs Nov. 21-23."

Vendors Judy Ratz and sister Ceil Shulka have gnome items available in their booth at Treasures Under Sugar Loaf, Winona. Paint artist Ceil says, "I have 'The Believe' wooden gnomes selling at $8.99 and the gnome sign (hand-painted) is $17.99."