(Guest post by the spouse)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved miniature things. Well, we all love puppies and kittens and even human babies. But I loved miniature things, read dollhouses and the things that were inside them. When I was a child in the 1950’s, a dollhouse from Sears and Roebuck was a somewhat boring affair: a metal box with a slanting roof, open on one side to reveal four cubes representing four nondescript rooms (where was the bathroom?). Still, it was small, and if you could find them in Woolworth’s and your mom would let you splurge a little, tiny pieces of plastic furniture could be housed inside. I thought that was pretty satisfying until I was 9 or so. It was around that time that I became aware of the Colleen Moore Dollhouse at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. No mere house, this. It was a mansion of a million rooms (or so it seemed), each completely furnished down to the teeny rose in a teeny vase on a delicately carved mahogany table next to a velvet-covered settee carefully placed on a tiny Persian carpet. And it had electric lighting! Electrified chandeliers, electrified wall sconces. It was a revelation.
As I gawked at this magnificence, though, the pitiful contrast to my Sears and Roebuck box became far too apparent. Knowing that something so utterly amazing existed whose elegance and detail could never be duplicated (at least, not by me) quashed my interest in dollhouses for many years thereafter.
It was a bit later in life that I marveled at the historically accurate rendering of tiny rooms at the Chicago Art Institute. Conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne in the mid-twentieth century, the rooms were (“painstakingly” almost goes without saying) constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, and there are 68 of them! It’s overwhelming to the likes of me, and similarly discouraging. This was a life’s work – and an expensive one. It would take a highly dedicated Mrs. Thorne’s full-time efforts and considerable fortune to even think of duplicating a single room. Sigh.
I most certainly should have given up this interest in miniatures. But no. At Gainesville (Florida) High School I chaired the decorations committee for the senior prom. They could not have picked a more inept leader. Being a complete dufus, I envisioned an entrance to the dance floor (the gym) that would replicate – in miniature — the Gainesville main street at the turn of the century. Low-rise buildings, gas lights, cobble-stone streets. It was a complete and utter disaster! Neither I nor anyone on my committee had a clue on how even to begin. I have mostly repressed the whole affair, but I think somebody’s mother bailed me out by providing crepe paper streamers and Kleenex roses – like any sensible prom decorating committee should have done.
But I never really gave up being enamored of small things. Even my scientific career focused on things microscopic. Nothing gave more satisfaction than to examine through a microscope cells stained to show the delicate intricacies of their inner workings.
And in the meantime, I started to collect miniature tea sets. Cheap enough and still satisfyingly small. I learned that there are small tea sets (suitable for tea time with a teddy bear), smaller tea sets (not suitable for anything, really), and teensy, tiny tea sets (designed to please people like me who have a miniature fetish and a limited budget). The smallest I have came from a gift shop at The Greenbrier. The tray upon which the tea pot, sugar, creamer and two cups in saucers sits is no more than three centimeters in diameter. I love it. All of my tiniest treasures are now displayed in a shadow box that is ill-lit. No one really notices it, but I do, and when I do, it surprises and pleases.
Not knowing much about the military nor coming from a military family, I was never as intrigued by toy soldiers, but a friend, James Hillestad, has a most extraordinary collection of toy soldiers at the Toy Soldier Museum in Cresco, PA. Here are 3,000 square feet of full-scale models with 70 authentic military uniforms. You can see the battle at Vicksburg, parade scenes of Scottish bagpipers, the military review that attended Queen Victoria on a visit to India, etc. etc. In short, hundreds of toy soldiers are on breath-taking display. Definitely worth a trip to the Poconos or go to http://www.the-toy-soldier.com.
Well, okay, so when I retired, I decided to give my full-time effort to building a doll house. I bought a reasonably sized, reasonably priced kit to produce a Victorian house with four rooms (one is a bathroom!) and a front porch. I put wall paper on its walls and carpets on its floors. The bathroom has “tiles.” The outside is painted dark green with white trim. It’s furnished now, complete with a teeny, tiny copy of Scientific American on the living room coffee table. There’s a chandelier in the dining room, but it’s not electrified, and it keeps falling down. There’s a tray of wine and fruit available to guests. I decorated the outside for Christmas with battery-powered fairy lights. I love it. And…I have gotten that Moore/Thorne impulse out of my system.
I think of this topic because I recently saw what must be one of the most amazing miniaturization projects ever! The Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida, houses a 3,800 square foot model of a circus conceived and built by one Howard C. Tibbals. It comprises (in small part) The Big Top (with 7,000 folding chairs and five rings), the Midway complete with side shows, the multitude of train cars that carry the 500 hand-carved elephants, tigers, and horses. Horses! Hundreds of horses both for work and for performing. There are clowns putting on make-up, the cooking tent and mess tent with maybe 500 people inside, each with his own tiny plate of food, a patrons’ parking lot with old-timey model cars, a wardrobe tent with tiny sequined circus costumes pouring out of tiny circus trunks. They say there are more than 42,000 individual pieces, not including railroad ties and tent poles. A separate exhibit shows the parade pageantry of the Big Top with hundreds of elephants, acrobats, and costumed beauties. Go to You Tube and put in Howard Bros. Circus. It is miraculous.
So, you see, there are more people than you might think who are driven to a lifetime of miniaturization. Bless ‘em!