Holiday artwork natural for Klaus
Hinckley man sculpts ornaments and figures with Christmas themes. He also looks like Santa
By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Beacon Journal staff writer
Published on Saturday, Dec 11, 2010
For Mark Klaus, Christmas has always been a big deal — so much so that he's even made it part of his livelihood.
Klaus, of Hinckley, sculpts Christmas-theme figurines and ornaments that are reproduced and sold by The Unique Gift Idea, TV shopping network QVC. He also produces a few keepsakes related to the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and has collected enough props and costumes from holiday movies to outfit a small museum.
It's strictly a matter of chance that he was born into a family with a name that sounds just like Santa's, but his resemblance to the Christmas figure is less of a coincidence. With his white beard and portly bearing, he's often a target of mistaken identity by the children who encounter him at his nonholiday-related business, Alien Vacation Mini Golf in Westfield Great Northern shopping mall in North Olmsted.
''So many kids come in here and call him Santa,'' his daughter, Natalie, said with a grin as she worked behind the counter.
Klaus' Christmas fixation is a matter of family tradition, he said. When he was growing up in the '60s and '70s, his father, Eugene, would put up a 16-foot Christmas tree that stretched toward the cathedral ceiling of their home in the Cleveland suburb of Seven Hills, ''and that was when nobody had giant trees,'' he said. His mother, Marian, would make holiday floral displays and bake ''every kind of cookie under the sun.''
Klaus remembers watching once as his father dickered with a store that was going out of business, seeing him emerge with giant boxes and helping him tie the mysterious cargo to the car. It turned out the boxes were filled with a store display of Santa and his reindeer, which his father hung from the living room ceiling.
That holiday joy dimmed for a while after his mother died in a car wreck on Christmas Eve, but Klaus said he eventually found the will to put aside his sadness. ''It wasn't right to not really keep the spirit alive,'' he said.
He channeled that holiday spirit into the art that has long been his interest, even though he said he's had no formal training past high school. In the early 1990s, he said, he was licensed by Goebel — the company that makes Hummel figurines — to make affordable artwork, which he calls ''fine art for families.'' The pieces were sold on the Home Shopping Network for 11 years and have been offered by QVC for five.
He appears on TV to promote the items periodically during the holiday season and during its annual Christmas in July promotion, he said.
The first figurine he made was a likeness of Santa, which he cast in his garage with help from his father, brother and friends. Every one of the 10,000 pieces had to be hand painted, he said.
Now the sculptures are made in China, cast in molds made from Klaus' originals. Most are made from porcelain resin mixed with stone, and many light up or have battery-operated moving parts.
The pieces are largely religious or sentimental in nature. A sculpted portrait of the Holy Family has a tiny likeness of the journey of the Three Kings carved into the back of the piece. A wishing tree covered with representations of children's wishes is circled continuously by Santa's flying reindeer and sleigh. The delicate feathered wings of a rotating angel are highlighted by fiber-optic lighting.
One of the most unusual pieces is a music box featuring a figure of Santa holding a baby on a spotlighted, miniature stage. Turned one way, the figure casts the shadow of an angel on the backdrop; turned the other, it casts the shadow of Joseph.
Klaus said he produces only a few pieces a year, ''but the pieces I do, I'm able to put a lot into them.'' Some of the carving is so intricate, he said, that he has to wear magnified jeweler glasses and sit for an hour before starting to work so his heart rate will slow enough to steady his hands.
The sculptures usually sell for about $20 to $55, although he's offering a few signed pieces at discounted prices at his mini-golf course. The business also sells iconic glass moose mugs from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, as well as miniature lighted versions of the Griswolds' house. Klaus' rendering of the Advent-calendar house from the movie is sold out.
One of Klaus' disappointments is that he had to close his ''Holly''wood Christmas Movieland museum this season when he lost his lease for that space after one year at Great Northern. The museum, which previously had been in Broadview Heights, displayed a variety of props and costumes from holiday movies — among them, the reindeer and sleigh in the store window at the beginning of the original Miracle on 34th Street, the sleigh from the 2000 version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the costumes Will Ferrell wore in Elf and Arnold Schwarzenegger wore as Turbo Man in Jingle All the Way.
Klaus hopes to find a new home for the collection, but he said he's having a hard time finding a space with at least 10,000 square feet and the 16-foot ceiling he needs to accommodate the Grinch's sleigh. He urged anyone with a lead on a location to call him at 330-338-5265.
He misses the reactions of the museum's visitors, especially the adults for whom the displays stirred memories. He likes making adults feel like kids again, he said, just as he likes knowing that the artwork he has created is displayed in so many homes.
''The memories we make are the true treasures in your life,'' he said. '' . . . If I can create something that makes a memory, I feel like I've done my job.''
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook.
One of Mark Klaus' works a praying snowman. Klaus makes sculptures that are cast into Christmas figurines and sold on http://www.theuniquegiftidea.com, HSN or QVC shopping networks. (Paul Tople / Akron Beacon Journal)
Mark Klaus holds one of his works a sculpture of Joseph and Mary with baby Jesus. Klaus makes sculptures that are cast into Christmas figurines and sold on http://www.theuniquegiftidea.com, HSN or QVC shopping networks. (Paul Tople / Akron Beacon Journal)
Mark Klaus' sculpture of Joseph presenting Jesus to Mary. Kluas makes sculptures that are cast into Christmas figurines and sold on http://www.theuniquegiftidea.com, HSN or QVC shopping networks. (Paul Tople / Akron Beacon Journal)
An angel sculpture by Mark Klaus, who makes sculptures that are cast into Christmas figurines and sold on http://www.theuniquegiftidea.com, HSN or QVC shopping networks. (Paul Tople / Akron Beacon Journal)
Mark Klaus' " Guardian Angel Peaceful Vision" sculpture. Klaus makes sculptures that are cast into Christmas figurines and sold on http://www.theuniquegiftidea.com, HSN or QVC shopping networks. (Paul Tople / Akron Beacon Journal)
Mark Klaus holds a "official" National Lampoon Christmas Movie moose eggnog cu. Klaus makes sculptures that are cast into Christmas figurines and sold on http://www.theuniquegiftidea.com, HSN or QVC shopping networks. (Paul Tople / Akron Beacon Journal)