Sculpting holiday magic one figurine at a time

  • Written by Shannon Michael, Features Writer

Dennis BrownPhoto by Shannon Michael. Figurine artist Dennis Brown is shown holding the Santa Claus sculpture he made as this year’s gift he will send to the White House. To see Brown’s work up close, visit his small cottage shop in Country Village.In a tiny workshop the size of a walk-in closet sits an artist working on his craft in Country Village. He is Dennis Brown, a man surrounded by his figurines of Santa, Halloween characters, and more available for sale while he works on his latest creation at the back of the small shop.

It is Brown’s Santa Claus figurines that have made his work so famous that Nancy Reagan and Tipper Gore have purchased his works for gifts, a growing collection of his Santas decorate the White House each holiday season, and even the great fiddle player, Charlie Daniels, has one of his works in his museum in Tennessee.

What makes Brown’s figurines unique is the attention to detail – and frankly a quirkiness – to each sculpture. No two sculptures are alike.

Take for instance the Charlie Daniels Santa he made which is playing a fiddle and wearing a cowboy hat. Or the current sculpture he is working on where polar bears will replace the traditional reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh.

This time of year is the start of Brown’s busy season. He creates about 300 figurines annually, but focuses on special orders for customers who order for holiday gifts between now and Christmas. By the time Thanksgiving arrives, he is putting in 16-hour days to ensure all his holiday orders get filled in time.

His figurines are in such demand for Christmas gifts that he often has to stop accepting orders by Thanksgiving. His figurines range in price from $200 to $2,500.

Brown’s passion for sculpting began in the early seventies when he was 13 years old living in southern California. He just wanted to have some little people to go along with his collection of Matchbox cars. He saved his allowance until he could afford the $2.75 to purchase his first box of Super Sculpey, modeling clay available at any hobby or craft store. That box of clay became his creative outlet. He would spend hours creating new figures, and then squeeze the clay back together to make new ones because he could only afford to buy so much clay on his allowance.

"My lifelong desire had been to work for Disney. But, I can’t draw," Brown said. With practice, he realized he could create Disney character figurines that, if he could sell each one for $2.75, it would give him enough money to buy another box of Super Sculpey. And, thus began his career as an artist.

For many years, his sculpting was done in the evenings and weekends when he wasn’t working his day job. It was when he was set up in a grocery store in Kirkland one weekend about 20 years ago working on his sculptures while offering finished ones for sale, that a chance encounter changed his life. A man came into the store and struck up a conversation with Brown for over two hours while he watched Brown work on a piece.

That man was Gene Freedman, the president and CEO at the time of Enesco, the largest figurine company in the world. Freedman, who worked in Chicago, happened to own a vacation home along the shores of Lake Washington in Kirkland.

At the end of their conversation, Freedman told Brown he wanted to purchase and ship every single completed figurine Brown had in stock, and fly Brown to Chicago to introduce him to Enesco. Brown’s trip to Chicago landed him the opportunity to turn his art into a fulltime career.

For five years, he made original figurines for Enesco, which took those to create 3,500 limited edition reproductions for sale.

His work for Enesco made his name and reputation as a figurine artist grow. He opened a store in Kirkland, which he operated for 16 years. He’s been in his small shop in Country Village for the past three and a half years, and he loves it.

So, how did his work begin to grace the White House?

"I have 18 pieces in the White House, and it all began when Nancy Reagan gave one as a gift to Bruce Babbit, the president’s Interior Secretary," Brown said. He sends a new figurine each year as a gift to the White House.

The figurine he is sending this year took one day to sculpt and one day to paint. The Santa figurine includes a watch. The watch keeps time, mainly because it is that level of detail that appeals to Brown.

His growing fame as an artist has brought new opportunities. Every package of Super Sculpey features a photograph of a Dennis Brown figurine. He also designs for Polyform Clay Company, working on new clay colors. And, Hollywood is interested in his sculpting ability for claymation projects, but he is putting off the demand on his time a project of that scope would take for later down the road.

Most people are happy to be in the holiday spirit for a month or so during the season, but Brown lives with Santa year round. "I love Santa Claus. I believe everyone should believe in him and everything he stands for," he said, referring to Santa’s giving spirit.

Brown, who lives in Carnation, is now looking forward to his favorite day of the year at Country Village. On December 7, it is the annual arrival of Santa Claus and tree lighting ceremony.

For many young children visiting that day, when they see Brown, who sports a beard strikingly similar to Santa’s, they think they are seeing Santa Claus at work in his shop making gifts. But, Brown likes to think of himself more as one of Santa’s helpers creating special gifts to last a lifetime.

Dennis Brown’s shop can be found by using the southern entrance to Country Village and going towards the back of the village. His shop, which looks like a small cottage, is across from the Village Bean Coffee Shop.

For more information, visit or search for Dennis Brown on Facebook to see photos of his work.

21 Acres receives 100% organic certification

  • Written by Woodinville Weekly Staff

2Farmer JohnCourtesy Photo. 21 Acres farm manager, John Eizuka1 Acres Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living announced last week that after rigorous review the farm has received 100 percent Organic Certification on its remaining two fields.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture, through USDA Organic, awarded 21 Acres an Organic Food Producer Certificate this October.  

According to Gretchen Garth, board president, the 21 Acres land has been farmed without pesticides or herbicides for more than eight years since the farm was purchased, and the organization applied for Organic Certification status for a portion of the farm, its first two fields, receiving it in 2011.

This recent certification is for the remaining acreage: "We are pleased to have received this formal certification and understand that the public sees this designation as an important identifier of pesticide- and herbicide-free food," Garth states. "We, however, go even further beyond the USDA organic standards and have for many years farmed without even some of the allowable inputs by the National Organic Program. This is important to us from a health and land stewardship perspective."

21 Acres encourages consumers to not only look for the Organic Certification label but to also investigate deeper when making buying decisions.

Increasingly, consumers are looking for not only chemical-free food, but also food that has been produced with minimal negative impacts on the environment.

Knowing how food is produced, including being able to talk directly with farmers, is the best way for people to buy food that is GMO-free and has been grown or raised in the most sustainable manner.

According to Garth, the 21 Acres Kitchen and Market spends considerable time talking to farmers about their growing practices and carefully selects products for use in the kitchen or for sale in the retail store. Other consumer benefits in buying organic certified products help limit exposure to chemicals and toxic substances while at the same time supporting growers who are good stewards of the land.

According to Washington State University there are only 26 Organic Certified farms in King County, one of which is 21 Acres.

It takes a minimum of three years for farms to receive Organic Certification.

Farmers are required to carefully document all inputs including seeds, soil amendments and supplies as well as follow particular land management practices, and they are subjected to inspections and regular review.   

Farmer John Eizuka leads the 21 Acres farm team. Visitors to 21 Acres can walk the farm, talk to John and the other farmers and see the food being grown.

Eizuka explains, "Organic Certification is part of our overall farm plan. We encourage consumers to talk to our market staff and ask questions to find out more about local sourced, seasonal, sustainable products." 

For more information on the WSDA Organic Food Program, visit or visit

Screamin' Reels - October 14, 2013

  • Written by Derek Anderson

10-04-2013 Skykomish CohoFall is here and now is the time to get out and enjoy the outdoors with the few sunny days that come and go this time of year. There is not a better way to spend a morning feeling that cool crisp air while on the Skykomish River fishing for the beautiful silver salmon. Fishing the river this time of year is a treat with all of the alder and maple leaves turning golden in color and watching the eagles flying down the river. With the big rains over the last couple of weeks the rivers have filled back up to normal water levels and the silver salmon came into the river in a big way!

The fishing is very enjoyable and pretty simple. Just sit back in the boat, sip a warm cup of coffee and watch that rod bury as an aggressive salmon grabs your lure. This fishery is very family friendly with many techniques for all skill levels to catch these acrobatic fish. The run will last well through October. Towards the end of October, the chum salmon will enter the river system and you can catch both species.

If you just want to catch and release it’s a great time to bring the fly rod due to the salmon being so aggressive and very fun to pursue with a fly. Give Screamin’ Reels Guide Service a call to spend a great fall day on one of our local rivers!

Tight Lines,

Derek Anderson

It’s time to pick a pumpkin

  • Written by 21 Acres


Photo courtesy of 21 Acres.

Mary Saleeby transports pumpkins to the 21 Acres Farm Market from the farm. 21 Acres is holding a u-pick pumpkin event in its first ever u-pick field on Saturday, October 12, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Groups will be led on a farm walk every hour (11, 12, 1) until the pumpkins have disappeared! This is a free family event and open to the public. RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Pumpkins will be available for purchase in the market. For information, visit


Crush collaboration helps wineries succeed

  • Written by Shannon Michael, Features Writer

John PattersonPhoto by Shannon Michael. John Patterson, of Patterson Cellars, stands in front of a half-ton of cabernet grapes. His hands become so deeply stained purple it takes a month after crush season is over for the stains to disappear. It is palpable at nearly every winery in Woodinville. It is the smell of the grape harvest. It is intoxicating – not in an alcoholic sense, yet – but in a seductive, "I can’t wait to drink the final product" kind of way.

Visit any winery during crush season and you’ll also find it is an incredibly busy time of year for winemakers. If you’re fortunate to actually meet a winemaker in a tasting room, chances are he or she looks a little ragged around the edges.

That’s because most spend at least 15 to 16 hours a day at the winery for about eight weeks preparing the newly delivered grape harvest for their next vintages of wine.

The good news is that the quantity and quality of the grape harvest looks great this year, according to John Patterson of Patterson Cellars. "Our numbers are great. The weather was probably a little too hot this summer, but the grapes are great as far as ripeness and sugar levels," he said.

What you’ll also see, especially in the Warehouse District, where dozens of winery production operations are headquartered along with their tasting room storefronts, is a community of collaboration amongst the winemakers.

"We work closely, kind of like a brain trust," says Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery. He, along with Patterson, and many others, often help each other out — whether it’s sharing equipment or sharing advice.

Rather than being very competitive with the other wineries, Patterson echoes what other winemakers keep saying about the wine industry in Woodinville, "I am very happy when wineries become successful. If everyone’s making money, then everyone’s doing well."

It is that spirit of collaboration that is helping shape Woodinville into the premier destination for wine tourism in Washington state.

One winemaker appreciative of collaboration is Jim Page of Page Cellars. His day job for 35 years has been as a corporate pilot. It was as a pilot flying often to Walla Walla that he had the opportunity to meet Greg Lill, co-founder of DeLille Cellars, and Eric Dunham, of Walla Walla’s Dunham Cellars.

Jim PagePhoto by Shannon Michael. Jim Page, owner of Page Cellars, shows off the collection of fun wine labels he uses. When not at the winery, Page is a pilot by day. The plane on the label of his Mourvedre, far right, is a C46 Curtis Commando, a plane he spent over 409 hours flying. Both men offered to help Page start his own winery. "I wanted something to fall back on," said Page, as a back up to his flying career. "I was fascinated that these two men would help a future competitor start a business," he said.

Like many small-sized winery owners, Page is not in the business to get rich, but to just have fun producing quality wines he can offer to the public. His winery produces 3,000 to 4,000 cases of wine annually.

Several of the smaller winery owners still have day jobs outside of the wine industry during the slower parts of the winemaking calendar. When not at the winery, Page teaches Dash 8 pilots at a ground school.

For Patterson, though, along with Gorman, their labors in the wine industry have grown to the point where it is their full-time career.

Gorman Winery, which opened in 2002, has been Gorman’s full-time job since 2007. The winery produces about 6,000 to 7,000 cases annually, and is considered a medium-sized winery for Woodinville. This year, as last, he’ll use about 100 tons of grapes to produce mainly Cabernet, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Patterson, who produces about 3,500 cases of wine with the Patterson Cellars label annually, has also branched out into the early stages part of the grape processing business after people in the industry started asking him if he would help them with the processing. 

His equipment is now used by over 20 wineries to begin the early stages of processing for an estimated 450 tons of grapes that will be brought in this year to his facilty.

Depending on each of those winery’s needs, Patterson and his crew can provide destemming, crushing, and pressing services and equipment. For smaller wineries, or those just starting out, it is more economical to rent out and use Patterson’s equipment and staff to help prepare the grapes.

Patterson works closely with the wineries, however, to ensure that each winery’s grape harvest is processed to their winemaker’s specifications.

For Gorman, this time of year gives him the opportunity to experiment in the production process. "The Washington wine industry has no set rules for what you can blend together, unlike most of Europe where traditional winemaking has set rules for blends," he said.

"We’re successful because it [Washington] is an awesome place to make wine," he added. California winemakers have taken note Gorman said, as evidenced when wine giant E. & J. Gallo bought Columbia Winery and Covey Run Wines in 2012.

In one of this year’s experiments, Gorman will use some of Patterson’s sorting tables to bring in 10 volunteers for one day to hand pull the grapes off the vines for his Cab Reserve Albatross.

Normally, grapes are mechanically destemmed and crushed before being placed into a large, open-top container where every 12 hours the skins, which rise to the top, are punched down into the juice until fermentation begins. This process takes up to 15 days to happen depending on whether commercial or natural yeasts are used.

But, Gorman will put the handpicked grapes right into oak barrels where they will be rotated every 12 hours instead of using the punching down technique. The grapes will not be crushed before going into the barrels.

"I’ve never done this before, but some of the bigger cult wines of Napa like Bryant do this," he said, adding, "I believe this is the first attempt in Washington state."

Cult wines are often viewed as investments or as a collectible by wine enthusiasts because they are produced in very small quantities, receive very high scores from wine critics, generate a lot of buzz, and are expensive.

However, in a September 2011 Wine Enthusiast column, writer Paul Gregutt argues that the exceptional quality of many Washington wines that are much more reasonably priced should allow more wine enthusiasts with less money in their wallets to participate in the cult wine trend.

This is good news for those who want to enjoy the many great wines receiving high scores that are made in Woodinville.

The crush season began in earnest in September and will continue through most of October.

For a map of the wineries located in Woodinville, including Page Cellars, Patterson Cellars and Gorman Winery in the Warehouse District, visit