I believe that my life-long obsession with miniatures began on Christmas day in 1967 when I received The Little Girl And The Tiny Doll by Edward and Aingelda Ardizzone. It is a beautiful, pen and ink-illustrated story about a little girl who finds an abandoned doll in the frozen food section of a grocery store. She ends up making and bringing the doll an item of clothing each day and eventually asks the store clerk if she take her home. Fifty years later, I still go back and reread that story.
I spent my childhood fantasizing that I, too, would come across a miniature person that I could create a tiny world for, complete with clothes, a home, and tiny yard. Of course it never happened but my love for all things mini has continued to grow and informs a lot of what I do in my life. I’ve prepared a mini Thanksgiving dinner, built and furnished a mini cabin for my backyard, and participated in a nail-biter bidding process to procure a Mackenzie-Childs mini petite tuffet.
Of course I was riveted while reading The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, the diminutive marriage of Lavinia Warren and Charles Sherwood Stratton riveted the nation. They were proportional dwarfs employed by P.T. Barnum, who created a moneymaking spectacle around their society wedding in Manhattan. You can Google their lengthy New York Times wedding announcement, complete with a description of their custom-made, miniature wedding gifts. I scoured the internet for pictures of the Thumb’s, to pin to one of my many Miniatures Pinterest boards.
As crazy as I may sound, miniatures are not something to be laughed at or written off. Scale models, which are miniatures, are used in many fields including architecture, engineering, the military, moviemaking, and theater. Designers create small prototypes of their concepts as a cheap and quick way to explain their ideas and determine if they are viable. The makers of the Harry Potter movies built a complete model of Hogwarts, which they used to test lighting concepts and also used it to film some scenes in the movies. War maps reduce the world to miniature so that military leaders can see the big picture and plan strategy.
Besides their practical use, miniatures are compelling because they create a longing in us because we cannot shrink down and be a part of those worlds. If you’ve ever visited the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, you’ll understand.
Have you ever noticed that some of the most popular toys ever sold are miniature? Look at Barbie, GI Joe, Monopoly, and Legos. All of these toys allow kids to create their worlds in miniature. This gives them control of their environment so they can test their ideas and act out real life situations in a safe and fun environment.
I remember a time when my kids, ages four to twelve, created a city in the basement, built with all of their toys including wooden blocks, Playmobile, Polly Pockets and whatever else they could find. I was heading downstairs to put something away when I heard my twelve-year-old’s nightclub owner, firing my eight-year-old’s employee for being passed out drunk on his job. I scuttled upstairs without being seen, shocked at the content of their play!
My fixation on minis has created some small annoyances to my family and what some might think are questionable financial expenditures. During our mini Thanksgiving dinner, while my husband chomped on his tiny Ritz Mock Apple Pie and sipped a thimble-sized glass of champagne, he complained that my teeny “turkeys” were dry. He clearly missed the point of the dinner, which was more art installation than gastronomic exploration.
I’ve am very fortunate because my husband has been indulgent in spending significant resources on gifts for my miniature obsession; purchasing a collectible dollhouse, a tilt-shift lens for my camera to photograph miniature scenes, and supporting my purchases of materials to create miniature rooms out of wood and paper. Like many people with a pricey hobby, I am always trying to monetize my interests. I’m hoping the “Do what you love and the money will follow,” mantra will one day apply to me.
I’m testing the “teaching with miniatures” concept weekly at my Doodle Art & Design studio. We are always making small models of things from houses and tiny islands, to superheroes. This summer I am taking on my biggest project to date, a Micro Mini Biz Entrepreneur Camp. My goal is to teach my campers all of the things they need to know about owning and running a business by having them build miniature shops and create miniature merchandise, which they will sell at, you guessed it, a mini sidewalk sale!