My Miniature Projects

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When I was four years old, my dad built a dollhouse for me.  It was probably a kit and wasn't to scale - 1inch to 1 foot is the traditional scale.  The furniture was plastic and is all long gone.  My mother kept the dollhouse even through three moves, the last being to my parents' retirement in Sun City West, Arizona. 

Decades later, too many to divulge, my husband and I visited my mother.  I asked her if I could ship the spinning wheel that had been my Swedish great grandmother's back to Chicago.  It had always been displayed in our homes, but was now in the garage.  When I went out to look at it, I spotted the dollhouse just sitting there.  With the help of UPS, I had both of them shipped back to me.  I had no idea what I'd do with the dollhouse but had to have it.  Seeing it again gave me shivers and took years off my life, alas not permanently.

Here in Chicago, we have two of the most famous miniatures, the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute and Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry.  And famous dollhouses are located all over the world, including Queen Mary's in Windsor Castle.

But this is the story of my dollhouse and some of my other projects.  I'll admit right off the bat that I'm pretty good at creating the exteriors and interiors, but I'm not on the level of the three houses I mentioned above.  The important thing is that I'm proud of my work, and I love doing it.

     So begins my love affair with all things miniature.  At the time, I had no idea that miniatures were a huge business and hobby for thousands of adults.  I discovered shops that sell miniature versions of anything and everything you'd find in a full size house, from furniture to food.  There are magazines, books, and websites with gorgeous pictures of dollhouses of every style and historical period, as well as mail order catalogues full of items to buy.  Hobby Builders Supply  

In restoring this house - named Hazelcliffe because it sat on a stand overlooking the street we lived on at the time, Hazel Street - I stuccoed the exterior in white, painted green shutters, and bricked the outside chimney.  The original was white with green ivy painted around the windows, so I wanted to respect the original colors and design.  Then I went crazy on the interior.

The original had four rooms in two stories, but I put one room on each floor.  The first floor living room had:

·       Hardwood floors

·       I used a combination of miniature wallpaper and card stock to look like murals for the walls

·       The furniture is pretty much standard dollhouse furniture - couch, chairs, tables

·       Fireplace mantle

     Miniature spinning wheel to commemorate the real one in our home

     Grandfather clock to commemorate the real one my husband built in his younger days

      Lace curtains made from my great grandmothers' crocheted doilies

On the second floor, I created a library/den:

·       Bookshelves, of course, with books

·       The pièce de résistance is a miniature of Pride and Prejudice with abridged text and drawings by Barbara Raheb (I actually now keep it on my writing desk for inspiration)

·       Roll top desk

·       Couch, chair, and ottoman along with side tables

·       Leather chest I bought in Stratford, England

·       Both rooms, as all my rooms do, have coffee cups or wine glasses on the tables along with a book or plate of cheese and crackers or pastries

     This began my world wide search for miniature pieces for my house and soon-to-be-built room boxes.  Some pieces are expensive, some aren't, but every piece is in a specific spot for a specific reason and most have sentimental value as reminders of my travels.  Examples, in case any of you are familiar with miniatures, are:

·       Pete Acquisto silver pieces

·       Native American horsehair and pottery pieces from Arizona and the Grand Canyon

·       Betsy McCall mini paper dolls (remember her?)

·       Hand painted sleigh bed and armoire by Sharon Wildstein

·       Bronze roadrunner statue by Daniel Kronberg from Sedona (3/4")

·       Sterling silver wedding vase from Sedona(1-1/4")

·       High Society statue by Randall Zader (3/4")

·       Bluebird on driftwood sculpture (like Boehm) by Barbara Ann Meyer (1/2")

·       Swarovski crystal train set (5/8")

·       Morning Singer, a Navajo Kachina (2")

·       Various plates - Stokesay Ware of London, Blue Wedgewood, and others

Building and decorating miniatures became an obsession.  I dragged my husband to miniature shows in the suburbs, we went into every miniature shop I could find wherever we traveled.  I was in my own kind of holy land whenever I found something tiny that I could use.  You don't have to spend lots of money or even any money.

You can make lampshades from creamer containers from restaurants.  Flower pots from toothpaste tops, furniture from twigs I picked up from the ground in Lincoln Park.  I bought a whole bag of grout just so I could brick the chimney on Hazelcliffe and put down a slate floor for a patio.  [photo of The Verandah]  There's a gigantic cabinet in our second bedroom full of paints and brushes, little plastic boxes to be used for whatever is needed, miniature landscape materials, small silk flowers, grasses, pebbles, cloth and ribbon, and wood pieces for moldings and flooring.  You name it, I probably have it in stock.  A true miniaturist is always looking at the tiny, the small, the cute. 

I carried a hand-made five inch ruler in my billfold to easily pull out to measure something (you didn't need much more than five inches since the tallest piece of mini furniture was probably 6 inches).  Because of my non-existent mathematical abilities, I had sizes and their fractional equivalents on the other side.  A 3 inch tall chair would be a 3 foot tall chair in real life.  That's easy to figure out.  What's harder to figure out is a sculpture that is 3/4 inch tall in miniature would be 9 inches in real life.  Puts my math skills to work!  And I thought I'd never use algebra again in adult life.  Yeah, sure…

You may notice that I name every project.

Havens by Jane

Havens are a little vignette of a comfy chair and a table inside a small basket.  They're a cozy setting to curl up and read while snacking on wine and cheese or cookies and milk.  Each Haven also has a plant and a dog or cat.  In fact, all my houses and rooms have a dog.  I was always on the lookout for cute small baskets -- and I still am. 


Canyon Verde Ranch


      Several years ago, I spotted an announcement from the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois, a contest for the best container garden, the first prize a trip to England.  My juices were flowing.  I bought a large basket and created Canyon Verde Ranch.  Three kinds of teeny cacti were planted in half the basket, the other half was the patio.  Kidney beans are the cobbled stone floor, chairs were made with jasmine twigs, additional cacti made from clay, and some other purchased art items.  I still don't know why I didn't win. 

Once you enter into the miniature world, you're hooked.  In our small condo, we have dollhouses and room boxes all over, on stands, hanging on the wall.  We finally covered the front openings with Plexiglas so that I didn't have to dust the interiors, not that I did that very often. 

Blue Porch


[Blue porch]  [Rose colored cottage]  [Uptown Theatre Gallery]


My husband has been my cheerleader, helpmeet, woodworking teacher, and very importantly, my electrician through all this.  Many of my rooms have floor and table lamps, wall sconces, and chandeliers - all electrified.  He also built me a huge worktable in our second bedroom that is more than large enough for projects and supplies.  And I'm not alone in my own collections of dollhouses and life-size books, figurines, and art pieces.  He collects chiming clocks, and we have eight in the living/dining room.  So both of us understand how our interests and collections enrich our lives.  I also love to design silk flower arrangements. 

As this blog, Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, attests, authors aren't just writers.  The creative bug has burrowed down deep inside us, and we wouldn't shake it out even if that were possible.

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