traveling gnome! Treeson, a vinyl figure that looks like a cross between a snowman and a durian fruit, is a new muse for toy collectors and photographers around the world — and an advocate for environmental awareness, too.
Like the wayward garden gnome in the French hit film Amelie, fans take photos of their Treeson toys in front of different landmarks — the Kremlin, the British Museum, the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur — and share them on the Internet with other devotees.
Treeson was born in 2005 when Hong Kong-based graphic designer Bubi Au Yeung (歐陽潔盈) published illustrated stories on her Web site Milkjar.com about the character, a woodland creature who is befriended by a lonely boy after his forest home is destroyed by loggers.
The following year, Crazy Label, then a fledgling designer toy company founded by Andy Woo (胡國光), a former Mattel senior project engineer, turned Treeson into a 15cm-tall vinyl figure. Treeson’s career as muse to many came about accidentally after Au Yeung and Woo posted photos of the toy to their personal accounts on the photo-sharing site Flickr.com, catching the attention of collectors.
“People are attracted to Treeson not only because he encourages people to protect the environment, but also because his story underscores the importance of friendship,” says Eric Sun (孫梓評), a writer who adapted Au Yeung’s tales for Treeson and Other Stories, which was published last summer and features photos by Treeson fans from around the world.
The original line of Treeson toys was supposed to be a one-time release, but the initial run of 500 figures quickly sold out, spurred by the online buzz. Since then, 13 different versions of Treeson figures have been produced in limited series, including Baby Treeson and a glow-in-the-dark Firefly Treeson.
Treeson stars in fan photos from around the world
Bubi Au Yeung’s Web site has her original Treeson stories, as well as tales featuring her other characters
The Web site of the designer toy producer that
created the Treeson figure
Irina Troitskaya, a Russian artist whose photos were published in Treeson and Other Stories, caught her first glimpse of the character in Au Yeung’s photos soon after the figure was launched and was taken with Treeson’s “lovely smile,” optimism and his story’s eco-friendly stance. Treeson tagged along with Troitskaya on a trip to her hometown, and she started taking photos of their outings.
“Treeson has the most adorable smile and seems always glad to go out for a walk. It’s important to have such a friend, especially in the Russian winter,” Troitskaya wrote in an e-mail.
Treeson’s popularity stems in large part from the appeal of Au Yeung’s first story about the character. Written in the form of a children’s picture book, the deceptively simple tale nonetheless manages to combine the themes of alienation and redemption through love.
In the story, readers find out that Treeson was orphaned when loggers chopped down the forest of trees that had raised him (hence his name). He is discovered and befriended by an unhappy little boy named Ren, who is neglected by his parents and snubbed by his peers. The two lonely souls comfort one another and make a discovery that leads to an ending so bittersweet and unexpected that to give it away would be cruel.
Au Yeung’s characters and their back stories are “on the surface very cute, but we are actually seeing the world through her eyes. I think they are thought-provoking, because the characters make you smile, but they also make you sad and you can relate to their story,” Woo says.