Bluffton man's intricate Christmas village fuses traditional Dickens-era style with Harbour Town + video

eshaw@islandpacket.comDecember 8, 2013 

  • IF YOU GO

    WHAT: Rich Coyne's Christmas village display

    WHEN: Now through the first week of January

    WHERE: The Inn at Harbour Town in Sea Pines, 7 Lighthouse Lane, Hilton Head Island.

  • CHRISTMAS PUZZLES

    This year, Ceaco Puzzles created three new puzzles from Coyne's Christmas scenes, which are available at Target and Walmart and online at www.puzzlesforsale.com.

Rich Coyne, a Bluffton man known for his magical Christmas village displays, will once again create a mini winter wonderland for the public to enjoy this holiday season.

This year, the Inn at Harbour Town in Sea Pines is housing Coyne's display, which has more than 50 miniature buildings and hundreds of figurines.

The yuletide extravaganza is meant to infuse a traditional Dickens-era Christmas with a Harbour Town influence, complete with a red and white lighthouse and dolphins jumping in the harbor.

A model train clacks through the bustling village and disappears into a snowy mountain, which Coyne carved out of four types of foam. Wisps of cotton-ball smoke waft from the chimneys and the ships' smokestacks in the harbor, while holiday shoppers hurry from building to building, ice skaters twirl on a frozen pond and Santa leads a Christmas parade. Upon closer inspection, deer peek out of the mountain and tiny rabbits and foxes hide in the forest.

"I'm happy to put it out because it's Christmas and it brings joy to people," Coyne said. "I put a lot of thought into it."

Coyne estimated it took between 275 to 300 hours over the course of several months to complete the landscape display. He built it first in his home and then brought it to the inn in 11 different pieces that took 17 hours to assemble.

"It's kind of like sitting down and planning a city," Coyne said of the intricate layout. The village was finished last week and will be available for viewing through the first week of January.

Two years ago, Coyne built a 200 square-foot display for Pineland Station on Hilton Head Island that thousands of people came to see, he said. Last year, he built a small display in his home that was not available to the public.

An acquaintance of Coyne who works at the inn approached him about doing a display in the hotel's lobby this year.

"I wanted to put something up so that the public by and large who haven't seen my work could get a look at it," Coyne said.

Even those who have seen Coyne's villages in past years will have something new to look at.

"I never do the same thing twice," he said.

When Coyne was a child, he would spend Christmas with his grandfather, who made villages out of paper houses. Coyne started making his own buildings in 1986, and has been buying and collecting items for his displays ever since.

Coyne's dedication to building Christmas village displays has won him awards and national acclaim. He is a three-time winner of Christmas village manufacturer Lemax's grand prize display competition and a competition finalist with village manufacturer Department 56. He has been featured in 18 regional and national magazines, including several publications for railroad enthusiasts.

"They like the trains I have, but I'm not a model railroader, I'm a Christmas guy," Coyne said.

Last year, puzzle manufacturer Ceaco created a puzzle out of Coyne's Christmas village scenes. This year, they've made three more. From 300 to 750 pieces, Coyne's puzzles look pretty difficult, if only because of his impeccable eye for detail.

Where there are large numbers of clustered figurines, Coyne churned up the snow to show the implied foot traffic.

He even painted the dolphins in the harbor with clear nail polish to make them look wet and shiny from water.

The effect is a seamless flow of movement that elicits a snowdrift's-worth of Christmas cheer.

"No matter what age, people walk away from this thing smiling," Coyne said. "It's for the kid in everybody."


Video: Tour of Bluffton artist Rich Coyne's Christmas Village

Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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