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Nutcracker Nirvana

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | December 19, 2020 1:00 AM

HAYDEN — As CJ Davis cranks the handle of her music box, you expect the thousands of nutcrackers nearby to come to life.

You expect to see them jumping down from their shelves, laughing, playing and having themselves a merry little Christmas as they scurry around the upstairs room.

“Isn’t this cool?” Davis says as the music falls silent. “The kids love that.”

Davis is full of joy. Nutcrackers will do that to most anyone, but especially to Davis. She has more than 3,000 nutcrackers — big and small, short (inches) and tall (six feet), wood and metal, clowns and cooks, bears and birds, Uncle Sam and George Washington, Scrooge and Tiny Tim.

They come from around the world, including Germany, Austria and Italy.

It is, she says, the world’s second-largest collection, trailing only the Nutcracker Museum in Leavenworth, Wash., which has more than 9,000 pieces.

Asked if there are any other collections like hers, Davis answers quickly and adamantly: “No. No, no, no, no.”

It started with her father, Hal Davis, who collected nutcrackers and passed on his love for them, and about 2,000 nutcrackers, to his daughter. She’s been carrying on the tradition, caring for them, showcasing them, sharing them, delighting in them, since 1989.

Claudia, or CJ, Davis knows nutcrackers.

People have noticed.

Past articles and pictures from The Press and other newspapers are displayed on the walls. She was named director emeritus of the Leavenworth museum last year, after serving on the board for nearly 20 years.

One large room in her spacious home is dedicated to them. Each week, she cleans a different unit. It’s a lengthy process, as nutcrackers and shelves come down for inspection before being dusted and delivered back to their posts.

“I don’t want them cluttered all over my house,” she said, laughing. “It’s enough dusting them up there.”

But this isn’t work for Davis.

Nutcrackers, whether they operate by lever action, plier type or turn screw, do more than just crack shells and reveal nutritious nuts.

To Davis, they open a world of hope and happiness.

She glows as she recounts how someone told her about their granddaughter attending The Nutcracker ballet. The story made her smile.

“I thought, ‘Oh good, the spirit is still there,’” Davis said.

That’s why she gives nutcracker presentations to children and seniors. She visits schools and community centers and talks of their magic.

This year, though, with the coronavirus and social distancing requirements, she hasn’t been able to do that, which is disappointing.

Most children, she added, are more into computers these days and aren’t as entranced by nutcrackers as in years past. But Davis still can’t wait to take her show on the road again. She’ll win them over.

“The kids are so much fun. I love the second-grade level,” she said.

Her other passion in life is her Pappions - Kayla, Krissee, Kyle and Kincie, — who guard the house ferociously and have freedom to roam among the nutcrackers. They have earned their share of honors in shows. They are smart and trained to seek and find.

“You could put a Q-tip with a scent on it somewhere in a room and within a minute of telling them to search they would find it,“ she said proudly.

Come holidays, nutcrackers — from the six-foot clown to one-foot Moses with his staff and the 10 Commandments — take centerstage.

Davis isn’t sure what her collection is worth.

“Nutcrackers are like any other collectable. They’ve really gone down in price,” she said.

No matter. She doesn’t sell them and won’t. That is unthinkable.

Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion will always have a place in her home. Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy will forever be holding hands under her roof.

They don’t just belong to her. They are part of her. Nutcrackers always have, do and will bring Davis great joy. Not for what they are or what they mean or where they came from.

It’s the people.

“They attract great people,” Davis said. “People interested in nutcrackers attract a great crowd.”

Or maybe it's the nutcrackers that find their way to them.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Characters from "A Christmas Carol" are nutcrackers displayed in the home of CJ Davis.

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BILL BULEY/Press

A six-foot clown nutcracker smiles over the rest of the collection.

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BILL BULEY/Press

A bear nutcracker growls in the home of CJ Davis.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Culinary characters are nutcrackers, too.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Two Papillons part of the CJ Davis family sit in the room of nutcrackers.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Roupert is a favorite nutcracker of CJ Davis.