As a young boy, Richard Coyne would sit with his brother under their grandfather's Christmas tree and get lost in the snowy scene that was set up below.
It was a village with paper homes and a model train chugging along a loop of track, but in the imaginations of the boys, it was so much more.
"It was like magical fields of snow," Coyne said. "We'd sit and wonder where that train would go."
Coyne, a Bluffton resident, grew up to become an artist. His brother became a playwright. Looking back, he said, the spark of their creative careers might have been kindled under that Christmas tree.
Never miss a local story.
He's continued the tradition, making Christmas villages for family and for department stores, even getting some national acclaim. Now, he'll be showing one of his largest pieces ever at Pineland Station.
It's a 200-square-foot compilation of Christmas imagery that evokes all the nostalgia of a verse of "White Christmas." Sculpted foam forms a snowy forest mountaintop with yuletide scenes from different eras. A New England village gives way to the hustle and bustle of Dickens' England, which merges into elves and Santa frolicking atop the North Pole. Train track connects them all with engines clanging and clacking. Every inch just about tells a different story -- snowball fights, crowded ice skating rinks, holiday shoppers with their arms full. He's precise down to the painted waves of the London riverside.
The tiny homes and the inhabitants that spill out onto the snowy streets are all his, collected over decades of working on similar Christmas scenes.
He took over making a Christmas village for his family in the mid-80s. On a chance encounter, he started designing a village for the holiday giftware and collectable maker Department 56 in New York City. He's the two-time champ of the Lemax display contest, using the collectible miniatures company's light-up model houses. His work has been on the cover of model train enthusiast O Gauge Railroading magazine.
He agreed to do the Pineland Station exhibit as long as it served as a fundraiser for Toys for Tots. He estimates it's taken him and a few helpers about 550 hours over the past two and a half months to complete it.
He imagines the wide-eyed kids walking in on a pumped-up version of what once captivated him.
"If my grandfather and brother could see their expressions, I know they'd appreciate that," he said. "Who knows, a kid may see this and it may inspire him to create art of his own or even start a Christmas village for their family. The important part is that it sparks their imagination."