Tiny elf scenes that appear overnight bring daily surprise for building’s residents

photo by: Contributed photo

One of Sharp's elf scenes shows the Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm in Lawrence.

The isolation of the coronavirus pandemic has meant few changes of scene for some, but creeping out in the night with a wagon full of props, one Lawrence resident changed that for her neighbors.

The idea had come to Village Cooperative resident Jane Sharp in March, when the coronavirus pandemic first hit Kansas, and came to fruition after months of preparations. Since the day after Thanksgiving, Sharp has been setting out a new hand-curated elf scene every day in a common area on her floor. Many of the scenes recreate pre-pandemic gatherings of neighbors from the co-op, which is open to those 62 and older, looking back on a time before masks and social distancing.

One scene showed the Super Bowl party when neighbors celebrated the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory, another recalled last year’s cookie exchange, and there was even a scene poking fun at a disagreement among neighbors about where people should let their dogs use the bathroom. Sharp has named the elves, created a back-story for why they defected from their usual duties, and even posts notes and emails to her neighbors from the head elf.

photo by: Contributed photo

One of Sharp’s elf scenes shows a Super Bowl party.

photo by: Contributed photo

One of Sharp’s elf scenes shows elves making cookies.

photo by: Contributed photo

One of Sharp’s elf scenes pokes fun about a discussion among neighbors about where dogs should use the bathroom.

Mary Grant, one of Sharp’s neighbors, recalled finding the first scene at the end of the hall, with the elves, about the size of Barbie dolls, set up in a scene made to look like the building’s community room. Grant said the detail of the scenes is exquisite, and as word spread throughout the building, more people started visiting her floor to see them.

“Now every day you hear peoples’ voices in the hall when they come to see,” Grant said.

The project combines both Sharp’s real life profession and her hobbies. Sharp has long collected the tiny versions of everyday objects known as miniatures, which she also used in her former work as a child therapist, where she did a form of play therapy called sand tray therapy. As for the elves, Sharp said that interest goes back to when she was a girl, and she used to make furniture out of cardboard for her mother’s collection of knee hugger elves.

“I did want to be reincarnated as Santa Claus when I was a kid,” Sharp said.

To complement her existing collection of miniatures, Sharp has taken on many elfish duties, repainting pink Barbie furniture to realistic tones, turning glue caps into tiny coffee mugs, and creating all the backdrops for the scenes. That includes recreating the building’s wallpaper patterns and creating a tiny TV scene of the Chiefs game for the Super Bowl party scene. Then there is switching out the scenes. She said around 10 p.m., when everyone is generally asleep, she uses a wagon to wheel the new scene over and swaps them out.

In addition to pre-pandemic memories, the scenes show her neighbors’ mask-sewing efforts in the early days of the pandemic, the Festivus celebration popularized by the sitcom “Seinfeld,” and elves watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel, among others. And as Christmas approaches, a scene this week had Santa and two elves meditating under the message “Relax.”

photo by: Contributed photo

One of Sharp’s elf scenes shows residents making masks.

photo by: Contributed photo

One of Sharp’s elf scenes shows the Festivus celebration popularized by the sitcom Seinfeld. The red remote made sighing sounds when pressed.

photo by: Contributed photo

One of Sharp’s elf scenes shows an elf enjoying Christmas movies.

photo by: Contributed photo

One of Sharp’s elf scenes shows the Golden Girls.

The head elf, Tillie, leaves notes for residents in a glass jar labeled “read me” and also sends the occasional email, as she has her own email address with the co-op. The notes, written on elf and holiday-themed stationary, began by explaining that the elves came to the building because they were tired of surveilling kids and ratting them out to Santa, and instead joined a new team of elves that is all about “supporting happiness.” Subsequent notes describe and sometimes reflect on the day’s scene, and are always signed, “Love, Tillie.”

Grant said one day the scene included an elf-name generator, which used a person’s first initial and birth month to select from a list of words to create an elf name — Grant’s name being Cutie Sugar Shoes. Sharp, elf name Holly Golden Glitz, initially made paper nametags for neighbors with their elf names, but at someone’s suggestion later made plastic ones, the type people might pin to their shirt at a conference. Some residents later attached their elf nametag to their doors.

photo by: Contributed photo

One of Sharp’s scenes had name tags with residents’ elf names.

photo by: Contributed photo

A sign from one of Sharp’s elf scenes helps neighbors find their elf name.

photo by: Contributed photo

One of Sharp’s elf scenes shows an elf asleep on the job.

Sharp said that the intention of the co-op was to create a community, and it had only been going about six months when the pandemic hit. Sharp, who now works just part-time, said that for her the project has been a way to entertain both herself and her neighbors in a year that has changed what it means to be together.

“A lot people are older and being very careful, and so maybe aren’t connecting or socializing too much,” Sharp said. “And so I got the idea to do the elf thing to help build the community while staying very socially distant.”

Grant said some people are not traveling or seeing family this year, and that Sharp seemed to sense that they all needed something. She said the project has managed to boost Christmas spirit in what has been a difficult year.

“I know I can walk out every morning and regardless of what has happened the day before, I’ll get a chuckle or a smile or a memory will come back from last year,” Grant said. “It’s therapy, in a way.”

Sharp said the scenes will keep going a couple days after Christmas, as she plans to send the elves to the spa and then to a tiki bar in Hawaii once their work is done.

photo by: Contirbuted photo

One of Sharp’s elf scenes shows the sitcom Friends.

photo by: Contributed photo

One of the Sharp’s elf scenes shows a counseling booth.

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