Ray Day Celebrates 10 Years with Lilliput Lane

Ray Day Celebrates 10 Years with Lilliput Lane

At first glance, one could mistake Ray Day for a Sunday school teacher. Sitting across from Ray and his wife, Eileen, in a hotel restaurant, one would assess them as a trim, middle-aged, middle-class couple – well turned-out, pleasant-looking, and absolutely ordinary. But when one scratches the veneer of Ray’s Midwestern reserve, the truth starts to emerge. This is a man with a deep, brimming love for so many things – his family, his country, his faith, his heritage, his art. And architecture. Ray’s passion for architecture has illuminated his life.

Ray and Eileen in Toronto

A Passion for Home

Ray Day was born and raised in New Albany, Indiana, where he still lives. His early inclination was towards the theatre (in fact, he met Eileen on stage), but he settled on Fine Arts. After earning his Master’s degree, he landed a position at the local Catholic High School, teaching art classes. He and Eileen had a daughter, Jennifer,
and in order to supplement his income, Ray began to paint landscapes on the side.

He excelled at watercolors, and his subjects reflected his love of the rural American landscape – covered bridges,
weathered barns, grand Victorian homes. Ray was drawn to evocative architecture, real buildings that possessed an innate charm and a sheen of nostalgia. He met with some success, and in 1973, began to sell his art as limited
edition prints. The Ray Day Studio was established, even though he continued to teach full time.

By the mid-80’s, Ray Day was a well established “Americana” artist. Plate publisher Blue River Mill approached him about using some of his artwork on a series of plates. The plates turned out well and they caught the eye of David Tate, the founder of Lilliput Lane. Tate had been looking for some designs that would appeal to the American
market, and when he first met Ray at a marketing convention in 1986, he asked about buying some artwork to reproduce as sculptures. Ray boldly suggested that he take a crack at the sculptures himself, and David agreed.

“Rock City Barn”

It was the beginning of an enduring professional, and personal, relationship.

“Lilliput trusted us from the very beginning. David Tate trusted what he saw in my work, and my response to him was equally so. I saw him not only as a phenomenal technician who could make this happen in the technical sense, but he also had the creative mind to understand that what the artist was trying to accomplish has to be uppermost in the minds of the technicians who are trying to reproduce it.”

During this period, the Days faced their most personal challenge at home – Eileen suffered the first of her two bouts with cancer. It was a devastating time that Eileen says brought out the “dark tones” in her husband, a sorrowful side she had never seen before. Throughout it all, Ray continued his teaching, knowing that if he left, he would lose their health insurance coverage. They both agree that their faith gave them the strength to make it through.

In spite of the crisis, Ray’s first four Lilliput Lane pieces were released as the “American Landmarks” series in June, 1989. His distinctive American style added a whole new dimension to Lilliput Lane, and the company continued to prosper during the early 90’s. Ray and David Tate became close friends, both sharing a passion to preserve and celebrate the architectural heritage of their respective countries. They also both share a wicked sense of humour.

A Passion for Architecture

This year, Ray Day celebrates the 10th Anniversary of his involvement with Lilliput Lane. Over the last decade, he has created nearly one hundred miniature masterpieces, such as “Winnie’s Place”, “Disney’s Haunted Mansion”, and his anniversary piece,”Nature’s Bounty”, not to mention his very successful Coca-Cola line of Lilliputs. If you ask him what his favourite sculpture is, he will say “I always hope that my next piece will be my favourite piece”. But, if you catch him in an unguarded moment, he will tell you the truth – “Home for the Holidays”, a limited edition tribute to a small Illinois farm that was released in 1996. It took him 11 months to complete, and it perfectly captures the joy of Christmas in a rural setting.

“Home for the Holidays” – Photo courtesy Dan Komar

Much has changed since Ray started with Lilliput Lane – Enesco Corporation purchased the company; David Tate is semi-retired; and Ray is now the Creative Director of Lilliput Lane USA. And he finally quit teaching three years ago. He is not discouraged by the downturn in the architectural art market:

“People still appreciate quality and uniqueness and integrity. Those are the qualities that have kept companies
like Waterford above the float. Lladro, Guiseppe Armani, and so on. Lilliput Lane is in that class as a quality collectible.Although Lilliput Lane has gone through a lot of struggle, sales difficulties, marketing problems
– as things have changed over the years, the quality and integrity of Lilliput’s product just seems to get more staggeringly beautiful piece by piece.”

As if to prove his point, Lilliput has just released “Victorian Romance”, Ray’s first Canadian piece. It is truly stunning. Based on the Preservation Art Gallery in Niagara-on-the-Lake in southwestern Ontario, this grand Victorian edifice is the former home of one of Canada’s most successful painters, Trisha Romance. The building
caught Ray’s eye when he and Eileen visited the town in May, 1998. Although they didn’t meet Romance – who still owns the Gallery – on this trip, Ray contacted her later and they worked closely together during the design
and coloration stages.

It varies from the original in that Ray added a small fish-pond in the back corner to replace an unruly bush.
When Romance saw the completed model, she proceded to place a fish-pond in that exact location. Ray recently presented Trisha with a plaque for the corner that reads, “The First Ray Day Fish Pond in Canada”!

A Passion for Art

Since his retirement from teaching, Ray has had more time to pursue his first love – painting. Once again, the limited edition prints of his watercolor originals are flowing. His newest print – “Victorian Elegance” – is a fund-raiser for the Howard Steamboat Museum in Jeffersonville, Indiana. The museum itself is the subject of the painting and all of the proceeds go to support it. Some of Ray’s early prints, especially those depicting advertising in rural settings, have quadrupled in value since their initial release.

Ray tends his garden at home. Meanwhile, back in suburban New Albany, the circle closes – Jennifer Day has replaced her father as the local art teacher. Ray paints and sculpts in his studio at home, and Eileen handles the business  affairs, as always. One of the finest architectural artists America has ever produced, and his partner, still masquerading as a perfectly ordinary couple.

For Further Information:

The Ray Day Studio – View Ray’s catalogue of new sculptures and available prints.

by Randy Gulliver (Copyright 1999)

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