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Cheeky garden gnome attracts more than admiring looks

A garden gnome displayed in the front garden of an 85-year-old Turnhout man has attracted the attention of the city’s stewards, and international media. 

The reason is, Betty the gnome is holding a pose reminiscent, shall we say, to Botticelli’s Venus, but with slightly less modesty.

The gnome was a gift to Louis Poels from his neighbour, and now shares the front garden with two other gnomes – these ones fully dressed.

And no-one thought any more of it, until earlier this week Louis had a visit from some city stewards – civilians whose job is to patrol around and notify the police of anything untoward.

Instead, these stewards took it upon themselves to order Louis either to dress Betty or to move her to the back garden, so as not to jeopardise public morals. Children who happened to be passing, they argued, might receive a shock on seeing Betty.

Louis, though, was not swayed.

I don’t understand how the city has time to comment on a gnome,” he told VRT.

I think there are more important things to take care of. Do they really have nothing else to do? None of the neighbours say they are bothered, not even the people with children.”

Louis has made his mind up not to follow the orders of the stewards, and wait and see if the law intends to get involved.

I just want to leave the gnomes there. If there was to be a police complaint, then I will move them.”

Louis’ main reaction has, though, been one of puzzlement, rather than rebellion.

I don’t understand why those people in the city are bothered by it. They will be Catholic people for sure? But as long as I don’t get bothered, she will stand there.”

One man who is rejoicing is Jef Pelckmans, who runs three branches of a garden centre in Turnhout and Rijkevorsel in Antwerp province, as well as Lommel in Limburg.

I can’t deny that I really like the attention the naked garden gnomes have attracted,” he said. The shops also stock a male gnome named Raf of similarly exhibitionist tendencies.

They are extremely popular. We even held a promotion for Betty and Rafke this week. There is a smaller version of the naked garden gnomes that caused the fuss. The bigger gnomes were sold out in a few days and are no longer available, according to the supplier.”

Too bad for him, because the story has travelled the world, with reports in Brazil, Austria and Taiwan, as well as calls from the Netherlands and from the Daily Mail and radio stations in England.

Like Louis, he fails to see the problem.

“This is all a bit over the top. If a garden gnome with bare breasts is no longer allowed, then the end is nigh. What about Manneken Pis or the meter-sized naked female statue in front of the Turnhout courthouse?” he wondered, referring to the more than life-size naked naiad lying in the middle of the lake in front of the justice building.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times