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The Story behind The Reindeer Barn, Our 2023 Annual Ornament

The Story behind The Reindeer Barn, Our 2023 Annual Ornament

Posted by Danforth Pewter on Apr 6th 2023

Annual Ornaments are a cherished tradition for many families. Many people tell us that they love to gift one each year to a child, parent, friend, or relative, expanding a gorgeous and unique collection year after year. We love hearing stories about your holiday traditions and what each Annual means to you!

That said, it's also important that each ornament stands alone. If you're not looking to create a collection, there's still a place for an Annual or two on your tree.

This makes for an interesting design process: every year, we need to create a piece that "works" as its own individual design, while also joining our extensive collection (over 35 now!) of Annual Ornaments.

Last year, we released Santa's Workshop as our 2022 Annual. This piece is a fun and playful foray into the world of the North Pole, exploring what might really be going on up there. This year, we could have gone in any direction—more traditional, maybe, or something new altogether—but the question lingered. What's happening at the North Pole? What other cool, Christmas-y, wondrous things are going on up there?

Tim Copeland, our lead designer, wondered these things as he got to work sketching ideas. His conclusion?

It's too much to show in just one ornament.

Which brings us to 2023 Annual Ornament, The Reindeer Barn.


Arguably, Santa's Workshop is the center of the North Pole, where the elves make all the toys. (This speaks us especially since the heart of Danforth is a bustling workshop, too.) Yet you can't think about the North Pole for long before thinking about another key set of characters: the reindeer.

"The reindeer are such a classic and ever-present part of Christmas, even underrated. It would be cool to give them some time in the spotlight," said Tim. "Where do they train? What are they doing when they're not flying around the world? Plus, I'm sure they're not alone. Elves may be sneaking them candy... gnomes trying to spy on them?"

With that in mind, he got to work.


The first version played around with the idea of suggesting all that activity, not showing it explicitly. Hoofprints in the yard, the soft glow of a certain reindeer's nose, Santa's sleigh ready to go.

Piece by piece, Tim began adding elements, many of them fun references from other Danforth pieces. Elves sneaked up onto the roof to spy, or smuggled in buckets of candy...

...and a big Snowy Tree front and center.

The Snowy Tree Ornament isn't an Annual, but it's one of our most popular ornaments. And putting it right there in the front gave the design some cohesion with Santa's Workshop, which has the candy cane light post front and center.

This version got a lot of smiles from the staff, and we agreed that it was ready to go to production. So Tim cut the model using the mill, then worked by hand to scratch in all the evergreen needles and add detail of wood grain on the barn's sides.

When that was done, he gave the model to Carla, and she carved the mold to make the master. The epoxiers then added color, and voila! We had the official pewter prototype.


Now, this is usually an exciting moment, when the prototype comes out of the oven. But this time, the reaction was more like, "Huh."

Cookie, our production manager, was the first to say that the design wasn't going to work. The epoxiers echoed this. There was just too much going on, and the details didn't work together in a cohesive way.

The color, too, was off-balance. "Color is meant to emphasize important elements of a design," said Tim, "but here, it just seemed random."

This kind of surprise and underwhelm is rare. It's a LOT of work to get to this stage, and we don't do that work it if we don't believe that a design is The One. Our staff usually has a keen sense of how a two-dimensional concept will look in pewter.

And yet, sometimes a piece needs to exist in pewter to see what's needed, or to see that it's not right. As is the case in all creative processes, there's always potential for surprise.

When we put the prototype next to Santa's Workshop, it was instantly clear: They did not work together. And since our Annuals are part of a long tradition, they have to "speak" to each other.



Tim broke out some paper and a pencil, and went back to basics.

How might he compose the barn with all those cool unexpected elements, in a way that is visually satisfying, simple, and cohesive?

After some intense sketching and brainstorming, he discovered one major change that made a big difference: the barn should be viewed head-on, not in profile like the original.

This would hold color nicely, and it put the main characters front and center. It got rid of all the hints of reindeer and finally showed them explicitly.

At one point, as the elements were still coming together, our Marketing VP Sarah asked her daughter, “What do you think of when I tell you that there’s a Reindeer Barn at the North Pole? What makes it a Reindeer Barn?” Her daughter talked for a bit, then said, "But there has to be a bell. And candy canes.” When Tim heard this, he knew he had to make those things key parts of the design.

Once he had all that on paper, the finished design came together naturally. There weren't too many reworkings of this version, except adding the elf, which brings in a playful story and adds some activity as well as a bit of mischief.

We were all excited to see that Tim still worked in plenty of homages to Danforth history. If you look closely, you'll see:

We were working on a deadline (by now it was March, and we launch the Annual in April), so the next steps happened quickly. Within a couple weeks, we went from pencil drawing to pewter prototype.

This time, when Cookie, the epoxiers, and Tim saw it, they knew. "This is it," they agreed. "This is what it should've been from the start."


Back when Judi Danforth, one of our founders, designed each Annual, she would keep the designs under wraps until she unveiled the finished version. Today, it's much different. Much of the staff at Danforth, from the design team to Customer Service, from the artisans in the workshop to the leadership team, can see the working drafts and suggest ideas or changes.

"That makes it a better ornament than it would be otherwise," says Tim. "Getting all those perspectives and ideas. The Reindeer Barn wouldn't have come together the way it did if it wasn't a group effort."

Inscribed on the back of The Reindeer Barn is May your imagination let your dreams take flight. This is our hope for you: that you never lose that childlike sense of wonder and hope.

For more "Behind the Scenes" of our Annuals, check out our How It's Made videos (scroll down to see our 2017 Annual Ornament, Sweet Anticipation, being made), and of course In the Workshop: The Making of our 2022 Annual Ornament. And of course, to bring home your very own Reindeer Barn, click here. (Don't forget to get it engraved to give it that added personal touch.)

Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your traditions. We love being part of your lives.