Some of Richard Coyne's earliest memories were of Christmas at his grandparents' house.
The Bluffton man said he remembers lying on the floor with his brother, playing with the pieces of the elaborate Christmas village under the tree, which their grandfather set up every year.
"It would fascinate us for hours," Coyne said. "It was magic. ... That's where the creative spark happened for my brother and I, was under the Christmas tree."
Coyne grew up to be an artist, and his brother became a playwright.
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In 1986 he began putting together his own Christmas villages. He started out sculpting his own buildings for the villages, then realized he could just buy the pieces. He has been collecting buildings, trees, trains and tiny figurines of people and animals ever since.
He said he spends between 500 and 600 hours every year creating the landscapes and arranging the many pieces of the displays. He has put together a new village every year since he started the tradition. When the season is over, he takes the village apart and does the whole thing again the next year.
"If it's done right, to me it really engenders that ... nostalgic feeling of Christmas," Coyne said. "It just brings back very warm memories."
He said the idea is to create a landscape that allows the pieces to come alive in a way in which they are seamless.
Last year Coyne's Christmas exhibit was displayed during the holidays at Pineland Station on Hilton Head Island. His friend, Jean-Marie Cote, took a photo of the display, and Coyne sent the photo to national puzzle company Ceaco Puzzles. Ceaco decided to create a puzzle out of the photo. Coyne said he and Cote will share the royalties and that Ceaco is waiting to see what he comes up with this year for another possible puzzle.
Coyne has received praise for his work with the villages. He is a three-time winner in Christmas village manufacturer Lemax's grand prize display competition and a competition finalist with village manufacturer Department 56. He also had the opportunity to design a showroom for Department 56 in New York.
Coyne's village displays have been published in a dozen magazines, including "O-Gauge Model Railroading" and "Department 56 Village D-Lights." His work has been featured in a variety of local and national newspapers, as well as on regional and local TV. He will be featured in the 2013 Christmas issue of "Classic Toy Trains" magazine.
"Last year when people saw what I did, everybody that walked in, no matter what mood they were in, walked out with a smile from ear to ear," Coyne said.