Local woman builds a village of memories

Photo by Tony Kukulich

Brentwood resident Mel Stolhand has been building her annual snow scene village since 1977, and each year adds a special piece to the holiday collection.

Mel Stolhand enjoys collecting her favorite memories in ceramic form.

A project she began 42 years ago with her husband and two children has grown into a display of Christmas spirit that takes up an entire room in her home. Dubbed her “snow scene,” the village is complete with snow-capped mountains and a star-studded night sky.

“I’ve been collecting the pieces since 1977,” said Stolhand, a Brentwood resident. “We bought two houses, a man, a woman, a boy and a girl, because that’s what was in our family. And the following year, we added a couple more, and over the years, it just kind of grew.”

Stolhand’s collection has grown from the original six pieces to over 700 figurines, vehicles, buildings and more. She keeps a careful catalogue of them and adds new pieces as they come along.

“I add one piece each year, and there’s been pieces given to me,” Stolhand said. “For instance, the mailman gave me one piece, and a fireman gave me another piece. My grandkids and my great-grandkids have given me pieces, and my friends. So there’s a lot of different pieces.”

Before her husband passed away, Stolhand said the couple loved to travel, and she often picked up pieces to mark vacations. One particular trip with her husband and sister-in-law led to the trio crossing a covered bridge four times in a large motor home to capture just the right photo. When Stolhand stumbled across a ceramic version of the bridge, she knew her snow scene needed it.

“There’s a lot of interesting stories to it, but for me, it is the memories of the last 40 years,” she said with a smile. “Since my husband passed away, and my grandkids don’t live near me, this is my Christmas.”

Stolhand has an interesting background that includes careers as artist, baker, travel agent and, most recently, author. It was through a writers’ critique group she met Gay Carter — one of the many friends who helped her set up the snow scene this year.

“I was blown away to think a woman her age could put something like that together, and how it grew from the top of her TV set,” Carter said with admiration.

Carter mentioned a new piece — a rotating Ferris wheel with lights — she looks forward to seeing this year.

“I think it is really going to add a lot to it,” she said. “The imagination behind the whole thing is just wonderful.”

Stolhand has always opened her home to visitors interested in viewing her snow scene. To make an appointment, call 925-634-3805.