RICHLAND -- Christmas magic shines in the basement of the CREHST museum in Richland. Tiny ceramic figurines are ice skating, Krispy Kreme drivers are making deliveries, a fireman is rescuing a cat from a tree, and a man is clearing the sidewalk of the Peppermint Porch Day Care with a snowblower.
They're all part of a Department 56 Snow Village collection donated to the museum by Kennewick residents Gary and Brenda Schuhmacher. There are 160 pieces in the collection, valued at $7,000.
"It got to be too much for us to put up," said Brenda Schuhmacher. "We're supposed to have a dining-living room combination, but when it grew to 32 feet, it took over. We could barely seat the 13 people we'd have in for dinner Christmas Day."
It's been two years since the collection has been out of its boxes.
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"Four years ago, I called around to different nonprofits, but no one wanted it. The collection is just too big," she said.
Then mutual friends introduced the Schuhmachers to Ellen Low, CREHST's executive director.
Low isn't going to keep the collection, but use it as a fundraiser. It'll be on display until Jan. 10. Up to that point, museum visitors can bid on individual pieces with proceeds going into the museum's operating fund.
"It is sad to see it broken up. But there's always the outside chance someone with lots of money will buy the whole collection," Schuhmacher said. "CREHST is a great museum, and we're thrilled to be able to help it."
The Schuhmachers' collection began with a gift in 1982 from his brother.
"It's All Saints Church, the only piece we kept," said Brenda Schuhmacher.
Once family and friends discovered they were collecting Dept. 56 pieces, they began receiving pieces for every occasion, including birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas.
"It just snowballed from there. We were receiving gifts from people who had never given us gifts before," Schuhmacher said.
She said that by the time they called a halt to Department 56 gifts in 2000, it took them four days to unpack and set up their village.
"We loved to see the expressions on people's faces. The display would always delight the kids. Everyone would walk in a couple of feet and just stop. It was fun to see their expressions," she said.
Low said the Snow Village is top of the line in Christmas displays.
"They're really detailed and finished on all sides. The company really goes to a lot of trouble," Low said.
Together, the building and figurines represent life as it was from the 1930s through the 1950s with a few newer items tossed in, such as a Starbucks, she said.
"Many of the pieces in the collection are retired, which means they're not available anymore except from collectors," Low said.
Each piece is numbered. The bidding catalog shows when it was introduced and retired and its going price at that time. There's a minimum bid for each, some as low as $2; a few, like the Starbucks, open at $115.
"Most are in the $20 to $50 range for opening bids," Low said.
While the silent auction is running -- through Jan. 10 -- patrons are welcome to stop by to check on their bids.
"Do not call us, come in person," said Low.
CREHST is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday -- including today -- and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. It's at 95 Lee Blvd., Richland.
Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and youths from 7-17 years and children under 7 years of age are free.