Before he became widely known as “Mr. Christmas,” he enjoyed the title of “signtist” (also known as a “signtologist”), a catchword coined by sign painters of the time to describe their craft. That background in sign painting and window and booth displays made the addition of float design a natural extension for store originator Wally Bronner!
It’s a year that signified much for Wally and the Frankenmuth community. Reflections from his biography, “Picturesque Story of Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland,” share that 1945 “marked the centennial year for Frankenmuth.” It was a “happy coincidence” that this momentous celebration paired with all of his previous experience afforded an ambitious, young Wally ample opportunity to gratify his passions and gifts. And 1945? Well, that became the official start of Wally Bronner’s lifelong pursuit! We call it that because Wally himself joked he never worked a day in his life! When asked, “Aren’t you working too long?” Wally would warmly reply “It’s not work; it’s a hobby! The business started as a hobby and it’s still a hobby.”
Though 1959 marked the initiation of Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Festival, it wasn’t until 1961 that the first Bavarian parade was held! (Learn more about our Bavarian Festival history.)
By that time, Wally had plenty of experience innovating creative float designs! Take a historical look through Bronner’s archives of Bavarian Festival Parade floats through the decades.
Just a fun Did You Know fact – Wally’s eldest daughter, Carla Bronner-Spletzer, was crowned the Bavarian Princess in 1974!
Want a closer look at our floats? View the PDF version.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
Seeing decades worth of amazing floats, I couldn’t help but wonder, as you might, just how does Bronner’s do it?!
The answer, of course, is that Bronner’s has a talented team of passionate people who piece together their different gifts. From designers to product specialists to carpenters, they work to transform an ordinary trailer – not just into a float for the annual Frankenmuth Bavarian Festival Parade – but into a fun photo op for our many guests in the summer and fall months. (Do you have a photo with one of Bronner’s floats to share? Please connect with us on social by tagging @BronnersChristmas on Facebook and Instagram, or @BronnersXmas on Twitter!)
Or this impromptu pose shared on Instagram from Se Yun Jo (see right.)
In researching for this post, I truly enjoyed discovering all the history in Bronner’s floats and seeing the evolution of the float-building process.
From a personal perspective, I’ve always been so delighted with the amount of archived photos Bronner’s has kept throughout its years in business. (Wally always had a camera – or five – in hand! Think we’re kidding? Check out this 1961 portrait of photographer Wally Bronner!)
But what I hadn’t seen before writing this post was what it was like inside Wally’s brain firsthand! Ornament artist Connie Larsen, who has been with Bronner’s since 1972 and was one of our early float designers (the angel in our 1973 float above), brought me a file of hand-drawn sketches from Wally’s 1981 Hummel design! To hold them in my hands and see his notes … it was just so cool.
Floats in early parade days employed many of the techniques Wally acquired young, like using hand-painted elements. Incredibly, some of these pieces are still on display in our storeroom today. This extraordinary 1978 painting from artist Frank Fulco is on display in our nativities area in section 6!
Though pieces were featured in past, Bronner’s has placed a heavier focus in recent years on showcasing the diverse range of products available through our commercial division!
A LITTLE Q&A
I asked, early designer, Connie Larsen and Kevin Maurer from Bronner’s commercial department, who now heads the design team, a few questions about our floats. Here’s what they had to share:
Q| (The parade has a theme every year, but) How do you come up with ideas?
CONNIE A| The ideas were usually driven by the parade theme…sometimes Wally had a specific concept in mind and we engineered it, other times I would offer several different possibilities.
KEVIN A| We receive the theme from the Bavarian Festival committee and then try to tie that theme in with Christmas. The float is parked out front for 6 months and customers take a lot of pictures with it. Therefore, a Christmas slant is more important than a total tie into the Bavarian Festival Parade theme. We’ve added the snow machines, too, and this has been very popular along the parade route.
Q| What do you enjoy most about the process?
CONNIE A| I enjoyed working with the carpenters and float construction teams over the years…I would sometimes build scale models for complicated structures and they would always find a way to make it work.
KEVIN A| Creating a float that ties into the theme but also gives customers an idea of what they can do with our products.
Q| Are there any challenges?
CONNIE A| Lots of challenges…it’s basically a moving display which carries people, and it has to withstand being outside summer through fall…a lot can go wrong.
KEVIN A| Using elements that will hold up outdoors for 6 months! We’d love to have snow (on the float), but there isn’t a product out there so we have to try and make something.
Q| Which is your favorite design? Why?
CONNIE A| My favorite design was the rooftop Santa and reindeer team in 2005…I had drawn the idea back in 1998, but Wally wanted to go in another direction. It was nice to see it happen seven years later.
KEVIN A| I really liked the float last year (2016) because we’ve never done anything with that color scheme and the gingerbread.
Lori Libka, Bronner’s communications assistant, takes our Facebook friends on a tour through construction of our 2017 float design with her live video from June 7:
STRAßENFEST | STREET FESTIVAL
Bronner’s Christmastime interpretation of the 2017 Bavarian Fest theme “Street Festival”? 🎶City sidewalks dressed in holiday style, 🎶 of course!
Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Mich., invites you to have your photo taken with our 2017 float outside of Bronner’s south entrance while it is on display. Please share your photos with us on social by tagging @BronnersChristmas on Facebook and Instagram, or @BronnersXmas on Twitter!