Minis Magnified is a series of articles about select miniatures from the collection of The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures. Beginning with issue 5, these articles are written by Museum Services Manager Emily Wolverton. We hope you enjoy learning more about the miniatures in our collection.
The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with the mission of preserving and promoting the art of miniatures. Click here to support us in our mission.
There is a transcendent feeling that can overcome a person while walking through the wilderness. The natural world holds endless fascination in the form of crackling leaves, chirping insects and the songs of birds. The hum of life itself penetrates the branches, a music that sinks deep into the soil, creating a wondrous calm so utterly disparate from the bustle of everyday life with its clanking horns and beeping appliances. It is no wonder that people are forever seeking some small token to remind them of the Great Outdoors – a shell from the beach, pressed leaves in a book, an acorn from the woods. There is an irresistible desire to take some small piece home, tucked into a pocket, a keepsake of the fleeting moment. Sculptor and painter Mary McGrath is a master at capturing these moments, gathering the lush forest into penny-sized treasures, with every tender petal and fragile feather intact. Her ability to recreate flora and fauna in the one inch scale is unparalleled, designing intricate vignettes of diverse habitats in every season.
Here at The Mini Time Machine Museum, Mary McGrath’s work is not hard to find. Our museum founders, Pat and Walter Arnell, have collected her work for years, delighting as so many others have at her exquisite details. In our A Little Magic Theater gallery, visitors can marvel at more than 60 of her pieces, including chipmunks, raccoons and rabbits, and of course a dazzling variety of wild birds. There are cardinals, cranes, quail and owls – an avian parade of feathered friends captured in striking poses: geese gliding on the water, pheasants hiding in the thicket, wrens in midflight. There are wild birds building nests, tending to their young, and perched among the branches in still life perfection. A walk through our transi-tion hallway into Exploring the World Gallery will reveal even more of McGrath’s work, a charming assembly of 14 pieces, including one scene set inside of an actual egg (this technique is one of McGrath’s specialties). And still our visitors can find even more – many of our roomboxes and dollhouses contain McGrath masterpieces, hidden among the minute décor like undiscovered treasures. Look for her stunning sculptures in Cheshire Regency (George & Sally Hoffman, 1981), A Touch of Class Regent Street (Bob Bernhard, 1996), and The Boat Builder’s Study at Lake Tahoe (Madelyn Cook, 1993), among many others. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
The sweltering heat of our Sonoran summer is being ushered out and replaced with pumpkins on porches as Tucson’s residents find themselves giddy with the first delicious chill of autumn. The change of season brings a renewed energy to this desert city, and the museum itself is no exception. October at The Mini Time Machine Museum means the sudden bustle of new Fall visitors, the return of our popular Flashlight Tours and the spooky annual transformation of our lobby décor. Keeping with the Halloween spirit, we present our museum’s newest acquisition, Dark Side of the Moon Antiques and Oddities, now on display in the Enchanted Realm gallery.
Ron and April Gill are long-time friends of the museum and the co-creators of some of our most well-loved pieces, including Forget-Us-Not Fairy Castle (1998) and Academy of Enchantment (2002). Dark Side of the Moon (2013) highlights their remarkable ability to fashion their own slice of reality; in this case, often tweaking found objects to inspire new and exciting concepts. This particular shop was inspired by a television show on the Science Channel, Oddities, which features strange and unusual antiques and rare artifacts, including fantastical creations (such as mummified mermaids). The Gills became inspired by the visceral qualities of the objects on display – and the apparent cleverness behind the fabrication process. They decided to make their own one-of-a-kind shop, manufacturing their own “oddities” in 1:12 scale using insects and found bones. The results are quite remarkable – and often amusing. Among the various sundries is a two-headed calf, a necklace made of miniscule teeth, and a table with octopus legs. One table display features the Giant Millipede, captured in resin, which is none other than a common garden centipede, made larger than life in the one inch scale. Perhaps the most eye-catching piece is what Ron named the Trigillaraurusron. April describes the evolution of this strange creature: “I did the skeleton from a chipmunk, took me a while to get it cleaned. The tail is made of the turkey bones that are [found] in the legs.” These mini bones were found on the Gills’ property in an area which they call “fence row” – an area in which numerous hawks and owls in the vicinity leave remnants of their meals. The reward for their patient searches and tedious cleaning process are miniature beasts that hearken from another ancient, tinier, world. The shop is rounded out with other peculiarities, such as a tiny replica stereoscope, gems and minerals, and a mysterious helmet-like contraption which has an electrical cord – one is not certain if this headdress promises to send its wearer back in time or if it will simply provide a curlier, albeit crispier, hairdo. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
Everyone loves a good story, and for a miniaturist the story is everything. Creating a satisfying miniature scene involves understanding your Lilliputian tenants – knowing their personalities allows a rich tapestry of their would-be world to develop, piece by piece. Without this genuine interest on the part of the miniaturist, there is a vacancy felt by the audience. Like touring a model home, there is an element of life that appears missing – the room is too tidy, there are no knick-knack treasures from vacations past, no cards from nieces on the kitchen counter. Even when a character is absent from the scene, his presence is felt through the sparkle of his career, his hobbies and friends – each made tangible through the simple tokens of everyday life.
Madelyn Cook knows the value of a good story when it comes to miniatures. In fact, you could say that spinning a good yarn is her start to every piece. Anyone familiar with her work knows that she favors the exotic and, just like her, many among her cast of characters are collectors who love to travel. For Ivory Tower (Madelyn Cook, c.1980s), Madelyn relished the chance to create an eccentric individual with the means and passion for collecting carved ivory. This particular ivory had of course been collected by Madelyn herself over the span of several years, acquired throughout the U.S. as well as abroad in both China and Japan. The miniature spirit who would be displaying this diverse collection would need to share both her zest for adventure and appreciation of this ancient art form. Who would this very particular person be? None other than Sir Chelmsly Throckmarton Montague, a tip-top fellow who served the Queen in the British ruling force in India. On a recent phone call, I asked Madelyn how on earth she came up with such a name. “I just had this list of names in my head,” she laughed. “I had several names. I wanted his name to sound important, you know.” A fine and weighty name it is, lending itself perfectly to a person of readily apparent self-aggrandizement: yes, that is a statue of himself on the top of his lofty tower! Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
As one might imagine, maintaining our displays here at the museum is no small feat. Our exhibit controls operate in unison with sound, video, motion-sensors and lighting cues, requiring expert understanding when troubleshooting a malfunction. Within the dollhouses and roomboxes themselves are hundreds of miniature light bulbs that require constant vigilance, not to mention the occasional picture that falls off of the wall – or any number of random acts of mischief from would-be miniature poltergeists. Since the very beginning, we have been fortunate to have Jay Ferrell as our Facility Manager, a man with a keen understanding of electronics and an extensive knowledge of carpentry and structural integrity. We have relied on him for countless, varied museum projects, from building a transportable exhibit base to fortifying the bark on our Enchanted Tree. Jay has witnessed firsthand the birth and steady growth of this museum from its earliest days, granting him an
objective approach to quality facility upkeep alongside his genuine love for the museum and its mission to educate and inspire.
At the end of July, Jay left his post at The Mini Time Machine Museum to complete his teaching certification in Middle School Science. We all knew of this impending
departure and had been preparing for over a year in anticipation. He personally trained his replacement, Jesse Wiley, a beloved member of our team who brings his own set of indispensible skills to the position. Over these last few months, we’ve all taken the time to remind Jay of how valuable he has been and how much his camaraderie will be sorely missed. And, in spite of any lamentations, we are also quite proud and eager to watch his new adventure unfold. When reflecting on his time here, it becomes apparent that the path that led Jay to miniatures – as for many of us – had a fair share of good luck. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
Needlework is a timeless tradition, whether it be embroidery, knitting, lacemaking or any of the other many beautiful textile arts evolving from needle and thread. There is a human intimacy with fabric that has developed over 20,000 years of sewing traditions from cultures around the globe. For those who make handmade fabrics or handstitched textiles, there is a feeling of camaraderie with previous generations, a delight in being a part of an art form that has such a long, rich history.
Those who do needlework in miniature practice the same techniques as they would in full scale, adding a formidable challenge in patience and dexterity to an already demanding discipline. Those who do fine scale, miniature reproduction petitpoint must do the same quantity of stitches as they would on a larger template – the size of the stitches become remarkably reduced, at times no larger than the period at the end of this sentence. These artisans must use magnifying lenses to produce detailed works which are often smaller than a postage stamp. These are objects of great beauty and skill, sought out by private collectors and museums such as ours. Click here to continue to read a pdf of this article >>
Last month, The Mini Time Machine Museum joyfully welcomed the entries for our 3rd Annual Kitbashing Contest, a competition designed to challenge our community with a creative miniature project, while raising funds to support our education and outreach programs. This year’s contest featured a corner cabinet with three shelves in the standard dollhouse scale, 1:12. Contestants would be judged based upon their creative use of scale, additional materials used and originality of concept or theme. As an added incentive, the winner would receive a $100 gift card to Lowe’s. The votes are in, and we are pleased to both announce the winners and celebrate the diverse and clever concepts of our participants!
Our First Place prize goes to Ant Invasion! by Jackie Volpe. In her artist statement, Jackie tells us that this contest marked her first attempt at creating miniatures, which inspired her to push the envelope. “Being the first miniature I have ever built, I wanted to take the piece provided and really add some extra creativity to it by making it unrecognizable – after all, it is a kitbashing contest.” Jackie followed her own advice and really wowed the judges with her lush foliage, mix of textures and colors, and delightful attention to detail. It was a treat to note all of the little edibles hidden in the leaves, the gnomes tucked into the greenery, and the handmade elements such as her twig fire pit and enormous mushrooms. Her oversized ants give the whole scene a playful appeal. Jackie declared that it was The Mini Time Machine Museum itself that inspired her creation, no doubt in part by our Enchanted Realm Tree. Congratulations, Jackie! Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
The galleries of The Mini Time Machine Museum are filled with stunning dollhouses and roomboxes. To walk through our galleries is akin to Gulliver’s Travels, giving each visitor a sense of omnipotent satisfaction as he peers into the strange and wonderful worlds of Lilliputian lives. Stomping about as would-be giants, our understanding of size quickly becomes relative, as each single house dissolves into a dazzling microcosm: the small house is filled with smaller rooms, these rooms are filled with delicate furniture, the diminutive desk is filled with tiny books, and there, beside the books, are the most miniscule of pencils. Our gaze goes ever deeper, from the garden to the flower to the perfectly curled petal. Appreciating the works here becomes a detailed study, an orchestration of miniature notes. It is on this plane that the attentive viewer is rewarded – many of the most beautiful miniature objects in our collection can be missed by a careless gaze. So many gems are quietly sparkling, patiently waiting for that gasp of appreciation. The miniature silver masterpieces of Peter Acquisto are precisely the sort of treasure that a patient eye will find, humbly sitting atop a tiny bookshelf or adorning the dining room table. Though each of his pieces is objet d’art worthy of a spotlight, instead they find themselves tucked into the scenery, so marvelous in their realism that they blend effortlessly into their surroundings. If his works were out of proportion or shoddily made, we would take notice immediately, just as the eye notices the smudge on an otherwise spotless rug. Acquisto’s silver is camouflaged in perfection. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
March is National Reading Month in the United States, a tribute made by the National Education Association in honor of Dr. Seuss, whose birthday fell on March 2nd (he would’ve have been 109 this year). Here in Tucson, Arizona, we will celebrate the love of reading on March 9 – 10, 2013, with our annual Tucson Festival of Books, hosted by the University of Arizona. The Festival will promote literacy in Southern Arizona and bring authors, illustrators and booksellers to a family-friendly setting that Dr. Seuss would have endorsed whole-heartedly! With the applause of books ringing loudly in the air, it seems fitting to shine our mini-light on literature. After all, as any good miniature enthusiast will tell you, miniatures and storytelling go hand-in-hand. The process of scaling down one’s environment gives way to a careful process of elimination – the judicious selection of details to reveal a singular moment in time. Like an author with a pen, the miniaturist sets a scene: the disheveled bookcase, the dress laid across the bed, soup bubbling on the stove. Each small note is but a piece of the grand tune, telling a story of the particular character dwelling in this smaller, parallel world. Every miniaturist develops personal histories for his or her small figures and rooms – the secret tales of an omnipotent creator. Conversely, a miniaturist can also choose to recreate the stories of others, bringing the written word into the third dimension. Such is the case with our Miss Havisham Dome, created by our museum founder, Pat Arnell in 2002. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
It’s a simple fact that people love heroes. In every culture, in any society, we just love a tale of victory. The Mini Time Machine Museum’s newest temporary exhibit, Small Scale Skirmishes (January 22 – April 7, 2013) has been a tremendous success for this very reason, bringing our visitors into a realm of miniature-making that can be as educational as it is recreational; parading the historical artistry of toy soldiers alongside the gritty realism of replica war models. This exhibit stands out from our permanent collection in vivid contrast, underlining humankind’s ever-present struggle with heroism and defeat. The fight for triumph over one’s foes has been a dominating cultural force ever since the first man threw a rock, generating objects in its wake as iconic as the game of chess and as deadly as the armored tank. In the 1920’s, America’s fascination with war and heroism ushered in something new: the adoration of fighter pilots. While the horror of WWI was slowly receding, famous pilots were being glorified and commercialized through pulp magazines like Flying Aces, and romantic thrillers of the silver screen such as the classic film Wings (1927), starring Charles “Buddy” Rogers. Flight itself was brand new, and for the modern American living in the uninhibited texture of the 1920s, pilots represented a sense of liberation and daring. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
The Mini Time Machine Museum had a lovely December, filled with musical performances, family craft activities and special holiday décor featuring various time periods from around the world. With children out of school and folks bringing their out-of-town guests to see our museum, we were truly bustling! Perhaps the most popular place to be was our Enchanted Realm Gallery – which is filled to the brim year-round with scenes of magic and delight – but when the frost nips the air this time of year, the gallery really seems to sparkle. We like to tell visitors that our resident fairy, Caitlin, has a hand in the magic around here, but perhaps this time we ought to give credit where credit is due: to the elves!
Our museum Founder, Pat Arnell, is positively an expert on magical miniatures, and her taste in elves is no exception. Quite a few of the elves in our collection were hand-crafted by the same artisan, Cynthia Baron. A well-known contributor to Miniature Collector for years, Baron’s skills are first rate with a style distinctly her own. Each figure is rich with personality, eyes merry with mischief and curiosity, and an appearance of illustrated whimsy as though each sprung right from the pages of children’s literature. In her article, “A Wonderland of Fictional Figures,” author Stormy Williams explains the aesthetic inspiration that gives Baron’s pieces such charm.1 “She attributes a great deal of her present interest and inspiration on the subject of fantasy creatures to her particular fondness for the artistic styles of turn-of-the-century illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Milo Winter, whose works are conceptually similar in that they create auras of peculiarity which come from surrealistic figures and settings.”2 This love of the peculiar has seen Cynthia Baron tackle subjects such as Alice in Wonderland, witches and goblins, and even unique film personalities like Charlie Chapman. But it is her elves which continue to bring her fans back, time and time again. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>