Hammock Tales

How a grandfather's stories became a precious gift

  • John Pacylowski, co-owner of Precious Gifts & Collectibles in Ellicott City, designed a collectible statue inspired by story times he shares with his grandchildren while lying in a hammock.
John Pacylowski, co-owner of Precious Gifts & Collectibles… (Matt Roth )
April 01, 2011|By Lisa Kawata

It all started with John Pacylowski’s six grandkids vying for space in the hammock with Grandpa.

His dilemma? How do you get half a dozen wriggling, giggling little ones to settle down on a summer afternoon?

Tell them a story, of course.

He started with a friendly dragon that lived in the tree above the hammock. Soon one tale became two, then three, until the impromptu story times grew into something altogether surprising — a best-selling collectible figure that captures a moment in time with his grandchildren (Sophia, Livvie, Gracie, Dylan, Nico and Jackson).

An amateur artist all his life, Pacylowski — who owns Precious Gifts & Collectibles in Historic Ellicott City with his wife, Sun — used his talent while stationed in the Army in Korea during the 1960s.

“I made money drawing pictures of the guys and sending them to their girlfriends,” says the longtime Columbia resident, who ran his own construction company before retiring to help his wife with the store.

Standing behind the Main Street shop’s glass counter, he is surrounded by other faces of fantasy — Pocket Dragons, Cherished Teddies and Harmony Kingdom boxes. Occasionally checking with Sun to verify a child’s age, the tall, unpretentious artist recalls the journey of how he went from doodling little cartoon faces on customer invoices to sketching a scene for the popular line Charming Tails, manufactured by Enesco. Using mice for people, he drew his grandkids in various moments of exuberant listening, having abandoned their tricycles and basketballs in favor of another spontaneous chapter of Grandpa’s never-ending fable. From there, the sketch went to Enesco artist Dean Griff, who added small touches like the gnome and fairy peeking around the tree.

“The fantasy lands that they would visit in their imaginations during their story time together was a great theme to work from,” says Griff. “The excitement and sincerity they showed for story time was very inspiring and enticed me to enter in that wonderful fantasy land with the Charming Tails Mice.”

It took about a year for the sketch to become a resin figure named “Storytime.” Three hundred figures were made, selling for $75 each, and quickly sold out at different retailers, including Precious Gifts. At Storytime’s coming-out party, buyers lined up for Pacylowski to sign theirs.

“I felt uncomfortable,” he recalls. The sketch only took him about 45 minutes, certainly not worthy of local celebrity status, but Griff encouraged him to sign them, he says.

Very few figures have a story behind them, says Pacylowski, and that’s what makes Storytime unique.

“It’s become an important piece,” he says.

So which grandchild is which in the scene?

The wise grandfather won’t say, only that the kids enjoy trying to figure it out.

“Whenever they look at it, they’re always changing who’s who,” he says.

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