Photo by Chayce Lanphear

When it comes to spreading holiday cheer, Santa may lead the pack—but artist Lonnie Hanzon isn’t far behind. Starting nearly four decades ago—long before immersive art became cool—the 60-year-old began dazzling audiences with interactive holiday displays for, among many others, Hong Kong’s Pacific Place mall and the Denver Parade of Lights. His newest project, Camp Christmas (November 21 to January 5), is a journey through the history of the holiday at the Hangar at Stanley in Aurora. Before exploring that wonderland, we toured his two studios near his Lakewood home to see how he creates the magic.

A Shrine to Humanity

A rainbow gazebo that was part of A Shrine to Humanity—an installation encouraging audiences to contemplate the history of gay rights during Denver PrideFest in 2017—sits in Hanzon’s front yard. A prominent LGBTQ advocate, Hanzon has created a piece of public art for the event every year since 2015. As for why he displayed this one out front: “The backyard was full, and the neighbors don’t seem to mind.”

Photo by Chayce Lanphear

Many Working Parts

Hanzon says the hardest part about constructing his massive installations is getting thousands of objects to work together to tell a story. For example, his Evolution of the Ball sculpture, which sat outside Coors Field for more than 20 years, featured 108 tiles of 3D baseballs. To plan out Camp Christmas, Hanzon created a nearly 40-foot storyboard, replete with hundreds of sticky notes.

Photo by Chayce Lanphear

As Good As Glitter

All good holiday exhibits need to sparkle, making glitter an absolute necessity. Hanzon stores more than 500 pounds of the shiny bits in giant tubs in his backyard and two studios. When we visited, Hanzon’s staff was adding the substance to a life-size cast of an elk; the animal will pull a sleigh containing Marie Antoinette in a section of Camp Christmas focused on the Baroque era.

Photo by Chayce Lanphear

Secondhand Santas

To produce large installations on a budget, finding secondhand items is often integral to Hanzon’s work. Ahead of Camp Christmas, he filled his second studio, which is within walking distance of his house, with ornaments, colorful trees, and Santa memorabilia. Most pieces were donated or bought at consignment stores, but unfortunately, a few Santas were too creepy to make the cut.

Keeping The Spirit Alive 

During the early 2000s, Hanzon began making holiday displays for the Neiman Marcus flagship store in Dallas. There, he collaborated with visual stylist Bob White, who Hanzon says could “make a pile of junk look like the Holy Grail.” He keeps a maroon cap that belonged to the late White near his work-space to inspire him to strive for the same level of ingenuity.