Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Decking the Holiday Halls and Malls Dolph Gotelli Began a Career When, at Age 12, He Started Decorating the House without Being Asked

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Decking the Holiday Halls and Malls Dolph Gotelli Began a Career When, at Age 12, He Started Decorating the House without Being Asked

Article excerpt

DOLPH GOTELLI'S work is, quite literally, the stuff of Christmas cards. For decades, Mr. Gotelli, a professor of design at the University of California at Davis, has spent much of each holiday season creating displays that summon Christmas past to present-day stores and shopping centers.

For Gotelli, this is only partly a commercial enterprise. When you meet this rather unprofessorial professor, as I did recently for breakfast here in Vacaville, you're likely to come away with not one, but three business cards: his academic one; another labeled "Dolph Gotelli Designs," his private design company; and a third headed "Father Christmas," which features a miniature print of the familiar yuletide figure handing toys to eager children.

It's that last "hat," a Santa's cap, that Gotelli dons in spirit when he accepts a design assignment this time of year. The assortment of toys, decorations, and other Christmas memorabilia he carries to the job are from his own "workshop" - a collection that has been accumulating for "about 100 years," Gotelli says with a grin and a note of ennui.

"I started the Christmas stuff when I was about 12," he says. "I used to start decorating the house without being told to." Since then, his collecting has taken him to Christmas markets in Germany for pieces from that country's rich holiday traditions, and to Britain's antique markets. He even has Christmas items from non-Christian lands. A friend once sent him a Santa figure he had found in Nepal.

Collecting has its twists. Gotelli recalls a Santa made from loofah - a spongy, mosslike material - that he tried unsuccessfully to purchase in England. Ten years later it surfaced at an antiques show in Vallejo, Calif., where Gotelli finally snatched it up.

Interest in Christmas collectibles is worldwide now, Gotelli says, and he's aghast at the prices: "Things I bought for a dollar at a flea market are now going for hundreds of dollars." A lot of the fun has gone out of it, he admits. About the only things he still actively seeks are printed Christmas scenes called "scraps" or "ephemera," large quantities of which were produced in the late 19th century and pasted into family scrapbooks. …

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