Santa Land a treat for all ages

Santa Land isn’t exclusively for the younger than 10 set.

In fact, creator Rick Benning believes everyone in town should take the nostalgic walk through the exhibit as they ponder what they would like from the man with the bag. Benning is an owner at Ambience, 320 W. Main St., a company that creates original visual elements and props for local and regional events and parties.

Santa Land is located in the rotating gallery on the second floor of the Heritage Center. During Holiday in the City, the display will be open from 2 to 9 p.m. Santa will be on hand and visitors are encouraged to bring their cameras to snap photos.

Santa Land will also be open each Saturday in December from noon until 5 p.m.

“I still run into people who live here and have never seen it because they think it’s only for kids. I’m sure so many people would enjoy it because of the historic elements,” Benning said.

The display features brightly colored, cartoon-like representations of many important old and new Springfield buildings and places, along with sculptures of people and animals. Historic houses from both East High Street and Fountain Avenue sit alongside the A.B Graham building, Kuss Auditorium and the new Springfield Regional Medical Center.

“Each building has a plaque next to it that offers information about the building and its importance in the Springfield story,” he said.

Santa Land has been evolving from more than a decade, starting out as a more generic child-centered experience and growing into one that appeals to people of all ages.

“When we started this about 12 years ago, we put Santa Land together from various event decorations we had,” he said. “We moved from the Heritage Center to the Bushnell building, then back to the Heritage Center about eight years ago, and that’s when we decided to create a Santa Land with a local flavor.”

Last year, Benning and his team added the Snyder Park bridge. This year, the magical walk to meet Mr. Claus won’t include any new sculptures, but the lighting will be beefed up. Benning hopes to add the original Warder Public Library building in the next year or so.

He has leveraged local talent to create the experience – Ryan Johnson, a Springfield native now living in Colorado, creates the building sculptures. Bev Kitchen — who was also Benning’s high school art teacher at Kenton Ridge — creates the figures.

For those interested in seeing Santa Land but not interested in braving the crowds during Holiday in the City, Benning said the display will be open until after New Year’s Day and will be lit during the Heritage Center’s regular business hours. Santa will not be there at those times.

“So, if people are downtown for any reason, they can add a stop at Santa Land to their agenda and take their time walking through,” he said.

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