Wee people are a great source of folklore. These small human-like personalities have been credited with being both good and bad. They can create problems by removing or rearranging items in the house or the yard. They are also able to perform small acts of magic, like helping a garden grow.
Garden gnomes, in particular have grown in popularity. Customarily, they decorate front yard landscapes of all kinds (grass, red rock, etc.). Often wearing pointed hats and beards, they have been credited with being protectors. It is believed that they do their garden work at night when everyone else has gone to bed.
The ceramic version was developed in Germany in the 1800's and soon spread to France and England.
According to Wikipedia:
The first garden gnomes were made in Gräfenroda, a town known for its ceramics in Thuringia, Germany, in the mid-19th century. Philip Griebel made terracotta animals as decorations, and produced gnomes based on local myths as a way for people to enjoy the stories of the gnomes' willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby.
The manufacturing of gnomes spread across Germany with numerous other large and small manufacturers coming in and out of the business, each one having its own particular style of design. World War II was hard on the industry and most producers gave up then. Griebel's descendants still make them and are the last of the German producers, all others having moved production to Poland or China. Currently, there are an estimated 25 million garden gnomes in Germany.
When I think of gnomes I think of the Travelocity character who is "seen" in many places around the world. Hardly the gnome who stays home to tend to the garden!
I've also noticed that gnomes are generally never alone. They've got company - either other gnomes or small animals like deer - that serve as their landscape companions. I once saw an entire 'gnome village' with mayor, etc. in a mobile home park for senior citizens.
In some ways they are akin to the urban scarecrow, only they don't have any moving parts. Just the same they seem to be well-loved by those who own them.