In 2013, curious gnome homes sprouted up in hollow trees along Overland Park’s Tomahawk Creek Trail.
Those who peered inside the hinged wooden doors could see tiny beds, wooden clogs on the floor, moving boxes, even a table and chairs set with a teakettle overflowing with “steam” produced by dry ice. The mysterious maker of the gnome homes also installed a sign that read “Firefly Forest.” Her identity remained a secret until this year, when it was revealed in “The Gnomist,” an award-winning short documentary by Overland Park filmmaker Sharon Liese.
That’s right: The Gnomist is a woman. And she’s still building gnome homes.
Robyn Frampton is a 41-year-old single mother of two teenage boys who moved to Overland Park in 2012. Frampton, who now lives in Saratoga Springs, Utah, says that Tomahawk Creek Trail became her refuge during a painful divorce and that building the gnome homes helped her connect with others during a time when she felt so isolated.
One of Frampton’s most meaningful connections was with Kelly Fisher, an Overland Park woman whose 3-year-old daughter, Allie, her “Little Owl,” died of brain cancer in 2013. After Fisher left a note in Little Owl’s honor outside one of the gnome homes, Frampton crafted a Little Owl door and installed it along the trail as a tribute to Allie. The magical moment when the Fisher family discovered the door was captured in “The Gnomist,” which is available to stream on CNN’s website Great Big Story.
“The Gnomist” has more than 2 million views across all platforms and has been shared on Facebook more than 46,000 times. Liese says she has received thousands of messages, comments, emails and tweets from people who were touched by the film’s message about the healing powers of kindness.
One of her favorites reads: “In a world that seems so harsh at times, this is such a loving example of the good that truly exists. … Each day there is someone who needs to hear or see a story like this and today was that day for me.”
Fisher and Frampton have attended several screenings together and are now friends.
“She feels that I’ve done something for her,” Frampton says, “and I think she’s done something remarkable for me. We’ll be connected forever.”
Frampton’s current project is her biggest to date: a whimsical “multi-family dwelling” in a 1,200-pound tree trunk with a green shingled roof, winding staircase and a fireplace. The impressive stump sculpture stands 9 feet tall and has a small owl carved into the bark.
In the spring, it will be dedicated in honor of Allie Fisher in the memorial garden at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Kelly and her husband, Kyle Fisher, plan to attend the ribbon cutting.
“I’m floored every time (Frampton) comes up with a reason to honor Allie,” Kelly says. “It really just shows how much Allie touched Robyn’s life.”
Frampton also builds replicas of her gnome doors and sells them on her website, fireflyforestdoors.com. Prices range from $24 for a tiny door that says “Dream Big” on the inside to $150 for a larger Little Owl door. Half of proceeds from sales of the Little Owl door benefit Team Little Owl, a nonprofit organization founded by the Fisher family that raises awareness and research funding for pediatric brain cancer.
Frampton, a full-time student who is working on a degree in psychology from Utah Valley University, still finds healing in her whimsical woodworking projects, which she works on at night in her garage.
“This is my happy place,” she says. “This is where I go when I’m having a real hard day and need to feel better.”
Recently she installed a standalone gnome home at Dry Creek Park in Lehi City, Utah. This time, she has permission from the city.
“We’ll see if it’s embraced in the same way here as it was in Overland Park,” Frampton says. “But I suspect that Firefly Forest was truly remarkable. I don’t know if that experience can ever be re-created, because it was reliant on the amazing people who lived there.”