Dioramas & Dynamic Memories with Mister Christmas

Denver-based artist Mister Christmas has a deep and rare understanding of the nature of memories – that we don’t remember things as they were, or even as we were.

You pull up to an unassuming, industrial office building south of Denver proper. You knock on a grey door identical to all the other grey doors facing the street. You’re greeted by a friendly-looking fellow with a wide smile and a twinkle of mischief in his eye. He welcomes you inside and you cross the threshold into a playground of the kind of things you would have been thrilled to find in your grandpa’s attic as a child — old analog television sets and radios, clocks, tin toys, tiny train parts, record players, and gadgetry galore. Movement and tiny lights twinkling among the shelves of the bric-a-brac of time gone by keep catching your eye.

Upon closer inspection, you see that inside this Big Ben alarm clock or that 1940s Crosley radio are scenes that are too whimsical to actually exist– pulled out of your childhood memories. Here’s one: it’s a table-top rotary phone like your aunt had in the 80s. But you step closer and see that the rotary piece in the center is missing.

You look closer and recognize the fluorescent glow of certain fast food golden arches framing a perfect replica of said fast food joint as it looked decades ago. Closer. Is that a UFO descending on the roof of the recognizable red-and-yellow arched restaurant?? 

CLOSER. It’s beaming somebody…something...up. Is that…Grimace? 

Yep. Grimace Is Going Home

A vintage rotary phone with pea green base and yellow handset, with rotary removed. Miniature scene of an old fast food restaurant with a UFO descending overhead is placed inside the rotary part of the phone.
Grimace is Going Home, artwork by Mister Christmas (Scott Hildebrandt). Photo courtesy of Scott Hildebrandt

This is the studio where Denver-based diorama artist Scott Hildebrandt, AKA (affectionately known as) Mister Christmas, makes his magic. If you stumbled upon this place with no context you might find it difficult to pin down—toy repair shop? Mad robot scientist’s laboratory? Secret storeroom where aliens studying human behavior have been keeping their anthropological finds since the 1920s? 

Hildebrandt's artistry is not confined to this playful, labyrinthine studio– it has also found a home at Meow Wolf Denver. And what better place for the work of Mister Christmas than an immersive wonderland like Convergence Station? Hildebrandt’s contribution to Meow Wolf’s largest exhibition to date is called You Are Here. True to Hildebrandt’s meticulousness, and devotion to innovation, nostalgia, and wonderment, the installation takes the form of a gable-ceilinged hallway bricked from top to bottom with dioramas, tiny worlds in miniature, each telling an individual story. All together, it weaves an overarching tale that can be ‘read’ if you stand in the hallway long enough. 

We know a thing or two about memories at Convergence Station. We (quite literally) place the highest value on our ‘mems’. And if there is anyone else on earth (or on any of the other worlds we frequent through the Convergence) that we consider to be a mem-expert, it is Mister Christmas. His intricate miniatures are tiny snapshots of memories (Real? Imagined? Mine? Yours?) made from bits of nostalgic ephemera, crafted painstakingly to scale and nestled inside authentic vintage vessels. Mister Christmas has a deep and rare understanding of the nature of memories—that we don’t remember things as they were, or even as we were…we remember things the way our hearts tell us they ought to have been. 

 The artist, Scott Hildebrandt, peeking through a small porthole in a shelf where many of his Camping Clocks, vintage mantel clocks with camping motifs in miniature set inside, are arranged.
The artist, Mister Christmas (Scott Hildebrandt), in his natural habitat. Photo by Amanda Shafer.

Little Scott Hildebrandt spent hours and hours making miniature railroads with his grandfather and unknowingly honing the skills and eye for capturing big imaginative ideas on a teeny-tiny scale. He applied those skills for the first time when he decided to make a Christmas gift for a loved one by building a mini-Christmas scene and placing it under glass. He started making more of these wintery scenes and started experimenting with putting them inside vintage household items (think radios, clocks, tvs, etc.). That was the beginning of Mister Christmas. And as he continued to explore vessels, he pushed the boundaries of his skills and cultivated a curiosity about everyday scenes and the wonder one can find in the mundane if one just applies a little imagination. Hildebrandt discovered a true artist within himself.

An interesting detail to notice while looking for clues inside one of Hildebrandt’s dioramas is there are no people in any of them. Each one feels as if the people that logically should be there have just left the scene. The coffee is still warm. You just missed ‘em.

“I never put people in my stuff. Maybe it's an empty scene, maybe with a small animal that adds a whimsical element. But without people, you can imagine yourself there. It's the nostalgia of the vessel and then the miniature inside. It's kind of like a memory inside of a memory.” – Scott Hildebrandt

Let’s go back to memories…remember when we were talking about memories (see what I did there)? When you spend a lot of your time in the Convergence, you become more comfortable than you’d imagine with time, space and memory becoming a bit…wobbly. Even for those not subject to intermittent memory storms, memory is so much more than just a chronological recalling of factual details. The fabric of memory is an intricate tapestry woven from sensory experiences, personal interpretations, feelings and the meaning we attach to the snippets of events that make up our lives. It’s also colored by context and by our imaginations — do I remember that or is that a story someone told me or that I told myself? Memories are dynamic, slippery things that are influenced by new experiences and insights and their significance can change over time. In the end, the value of a memory is as much about the meanings and feelings we attach to them as they are about the linear sequence of events. 

A floor to ceiling shelving nook with vintage radios, televisions, eight-track players,oscilloscopes and other obsolete gadgets stacked on all three sides.
Inside the studio of Mister Christmas (Scott Hildebrandt) – delightful dead-end of vintage vessels awaiting transformation.

In short, factual schmactual.

Scott Hildebrandt's work extends beyond the visual; it stirs something within the viewer, evoking a sense of wonder and nostalgia. His meticulous attention to detail and his ability to see something magical in mundane relics of the past are truly inspiring. His work encourages us to see the beauty in the simplest (and sometimes the smallest) things and to imagine the stories the everyday objects around us might tell. You can see his permanent installation, You Are Here, just off C Street (the fourth floor at Meow Wolf Denver).