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Monday, June 24, 2024

UF students document college experience through handmade gnome

The hand-sized clay gnome has garnered a following of almost 1,000 followers on its Instagram page

Graffiti of the UF gnome painted in August inside the tunnel near Norman Hall.
Graffiti of the UF gnome painted in August inside the tunnel near Norman Hall.

Wherever Cassie Dang goes, her small companion follows. The companion documents his routine on social media and sometimes makes multiple posts a day. 

Students — and even professors — who follow him on Instagram flock to him for photos as he strolls around campus attached to his signature pointy orange hat and blue clothes. They cradle him and pose, hoping to be featured to his almost 1,000 followers.

But he’s no regular social media influencer. He’s the size of a hand, he can’t speak and his name is Gnomey.

The person who speaks for him is Dang, his self-proclaimed manager. She created Gnomey’s online persona to document her time at UF as she studies with friends and attends classes. 

“I think people are having fun with him,” Dang said. “I tried to show the genuine experience at UF, and I think people like to see that.” 

Dang, a 19-year-old UF public relations freshman, sculpted Gnomey out of clay before she arrived at UF for the Summer B term. She also manages Gnomey’s Instagram page, which has more than 250 photos of him exploring UF, Gainesville and Alachua County.

Gnomey’s backstory originates in a pottery studio near West Palm Beach called Craft House, where Dang previously worked. Employees could claim pottery if a customer didn’t pick them up within two months. That’s how Dang began to collect more than 90 gnomes.

Since then, her bearded buddies have multiplied. They’re even scattered around her dorm room like extra school supplies.  

“I literally brought so many gnomes to college,” Dang said. “And I didn't even bring them all. My friend counted them all. I brought 91 to college, and I'm gonna bring more when I go home.”

And of those 91 tiny bearded men she packed for college, Gnomey tagged along — kickstarting his influencer lifestyle on July 7.

While Dang has to carefully wrap him in a blanket to move around, he has met dozens of people. He has even popped up at Ichetucknee Springs and the Brockhampton concert at UF Aug. 23. 

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Gnomey regularly crashes student photoshoots before their night out. 

Camila Celaya held him in her palms while dressed in dark clothing for an Emo-themed party. The 18-year-old UF media production freshman was the page’s first follower, which she boasts on her Instagram.

“As long as the gnome is there, we will take pictures with the gnome, and then Cassie always comes up with the best captions,” Celaya said.

Lucy de Greling, also finds Gnomey’s online personality humorous. He shares photos and stories with raunchy captions.

He’s quite bold. He knows exactly what he wants — and how to get it. Under a photo posted July 27, he wrote “hide your boyfriends… why? it's because i’m hollow… hot and sexy… and i'm up real late tonight.” 

The 18-year-old UF graphic design freshman met Dang during an art history lecture class, and the pair parted ways to their discussion class until Dang remembered she needed a photo. She grabbed Gnomey from her bag, and De Greling was first spotlighted on the page Aug. 26.

Running the account has not only been a way for Dang to document her time at UF; it also helps her gain experience in public relations and meet people like de Greling.

“PR is basically building relationships and making connections with others, so I think the gnome helps me out with that a lot,” Dang said. “I've gotten to meet new people and then become friends with them because of the gnome.” 

Dang has done just that. She has swayed almost 1,000 people to follow — and care for — Gnomey’s journeys, which will coexist with her own.

Karene Hermon is a contributing writer for The Alligator. 

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