Miniatures have always delighted me. As a girl, I saved each bit of allowance for rare trips to the little store on Cheshire Bridge Road that housed every type of chair, rug, patio set, curio, lamp, wallpaper, grand piano, and so on – all at 1/12″ scale. I sculpted holiday feasts from colored clay; dabbled in millinery with felt, ribbons, and a messy white-glue solution; wired Christmas trees and hall sconces; stitched rugs in intricate needlepoint patterns, and then backed them with muslin. After years of loving use, my dollhouses and their items were packed in newspaper scraps and stored in the basement of our weekend home.
On the few occasions that I have visited this house recently, my own girls have just as lovingly un-wrapped each worn item and spent hours on their knees, furnishing the rooms, yards and attics. Some of the pieces are home-made, some store-bought, and some inherited from my grandmother who was a talented miniatures artist. Now, these things are slowly making their way from Murphy, NC to Brooklyn, NY and taking up residence in our small apartment. I am very happy to have them back.
A friend and her daughters recently moved into a new brownstone and, when I visited, were in the process of setting up their dollhouse room. Oh – how wonderful – please give me a tour! The 4th grade daughter was still happy to show off the large dollhouses and various little items, but the 7th grade daughter – my friend confided – was now reluctant to express an interest in miniatures. Perhaps she thought it was time to outgrow this hobby. I understood. But who can resist that intimate peek into a tiny world, a diorama, a miniature stage so carefully set? Especially when it glows with beads of light.
I passed through the same thing myself – veering into adolescence and leaving dollhouses behind. But, in my mid-twenties, when I was working on my Masters thesis in Industrial Design, I stumbled upon the perfect chance to scour Manhattan for the best miniatures stores and create a backdrop for scale models of my work. At some point during that year’s work, I had been caught by a spread in Metropolis magazine – photographs of a scale suburban landscape. These weren’t strict architectural models; these were dollhouses in a very contemporary – very grown-up – style. I was inspired! I was enjoying my thesis work so much as it were, and now a chance to come back to a dear childhood pass time in a grown-up way. I spent a week holed up in our little apartment – husband and children away – listing to albums from start to finish, sanding models until my fingerpads were numb, and playing with a dollhouse.
The title of my thesis was Coming Home. Thirteen families across the country gave me a very close look into their family life, their comings and goings, and everything that they used, took and communicated about ‘coming home’ at the end of the day. The process was a coming home itself, for me, and an endeavor of which I enjoyed every single minute. Below are some of the photos I used to describe my ideas. Photographing the miniatures brought a whole new level of fun to the work, and – if I were ever to have an art barn out back (I have often thought) – my art would certainly take the form of tiny dioramas.
If so desired – there are many ways to re-imagine, re-invent, and re-visit hobbies that have been left behind, outgrown, or outdated. Allow them to change with you.