EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol," is one of the most popular and enduring stories of the Christmas season.
An extraordinary treasure of Charles Dickens' stories, crafted into tiny works of art can be found right here in East Texas.
The Village Mill is one of over 5,000 artistically crafted works of art on permanent display at the Lakeview Methodist Conference Center in Palestine. Each item in the collection is a limited edition of the Dickens Villages, but the mill is even more limited because the bulk of the original shipment was lost in a shipwreck.
Monroe Walker, chief administrative officer of the center, says while the villages have been a popular collectible, fewer than a half dozen individuals, galleries and museums have every tiny item produced in the series, from 1984 through 2007, as this collection does.
"There's Ebenezer Scrooge's house in there, and several buildings depicted in several of his novels," Walker said.
An English writer of the Victorian Era, Charles Dickens created some of the world's best known fictional characters: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and of course Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim, of "A Christmas Carol."
"When they think of Dickens, they think of Christmas, and that's why the villages get hyped and shown so much at Christmas time," Walker said.
The woman who meticulously gathered together this incredible collection is Jo Strickland. She and her husband Don also gifted the center with the gift ship, where the collection is on permanent display.
"It just seemed like a natural place to put a permanent display that would be seen by all the people that come to Lakeview," said Walker.
Ironically, the thousands of campers that see the display, are at Lakeview during the summer, although there have been some special open houses during the Christmas season.
Linda Barton, permanent board member and longtime friend of the Strickland's, says Jo Strickland started collecting items when she was five.
"Her mother, Melissa, told her at that time, any time you collect, be sure you have all the pieces, and she did," Barton said.
That's what makes this collection of Dickens Villages so extraordinary. While some collectors might have some of the 300 buildings in the collection, Jo Strickland traveled throughout the country, gathering up even the smallest of the 5,000 items, completing the displays.
Her trips to England also added to the villages' authenticity.
"The areas in England were fascinating to her, so I think this is what drew her to start this collection, and continue to do the collection," said Barton.
Jo Strickland's collection, that started out piece by piece, as most collections do, has grown into one of the world's most complete collections of these tiny Dickens art masterpieces, on display for us all to enjoy at Christmas and throughout the year.
The Lakeview Methodist Conference Center is located just outside Palestine, and is open throughout the year, except for holidays.