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.
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Our museum’s History Gallery is filled with remarkable historical miniatures, dating as far back as 1742. While many of our visitors are caught whispering excitedly to one another as they wind through the gallery’s walls, others remain silent, reflective and humble. The faded paint, peeling wallpapers, and well-worn fabrics of these pieces resonate within one’s deepest memories, at once familiar and unfamiliar. Objects are worn smooth by now long forgotten hands; the old wood is cracked by time’s unforgiving march. Although the origins of each piece are varied, together these cabinet houses, dollhouses and roomboxes capture elements of our shared childhood experience: the playful imitation of the adult world. Stories of how life once was can be read in these tiny rooms, the everyday objects of normal life – made smaller for smaller hands – now rest here as objects of great beauty.
All of these historical pieces were acquired by our Museum Founders, Patricia and Walter Arnell, collected over the years through various dealers, auctions, and fellow enthusiasts. There are a handful of pieces, however, that came from another museum entirely: The Legoland Museum of Antique Dolls, Toys, and Dollhouses. Located in Billund, Denmark, the Legoland Museum was part of the larger Legoland Park, which opened in 1967. The Legoland Park and Museum were the realized dream of the Christiansen family, the creators of the internationally famous plastic building blocks, Legos. It is a significant testament to the Christiansen family’s vision for childhood creativity that the Danish word lego translates to “play well.” It was this love of play which inspired their antique collection, the heart of which was built around the acquired private collections of Estrid Faurholt and Helge Hess. Although the Park still remains, the Museum closed its doors in 2005. The prestigious auction house, Theriault’s, held a three-day auction in Las Vegas, Nevada, from May 19 – 21 in 2006, comprised of nearly 1,300 lots from the Lego Foundation collection. Collectors from all over the world were in attendance, including the Arnells. Our museum has nine pieces on display in our History Gallery acquired at this auction: The Sparrowe’s House of Ipswich (F. Tibbenham, ca. 1930); Tin Kitchen With Built-In Oven (ca. 1865); Danish Antique Shop (ca. 1900); German Dollhouse (ca. 1885); German Dollhouse With Roof Garden (ca. 1890); Clevendon Court (ca.1800s); Koppel House (ca. 1878); 19th Century Cabinet House (ca. 1885); and Tordis Hus (ca. 1875). Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
The art of miniatures triggers profound fascination and curiosity, felt by children and adults in cultures around the world. Throughout all of human history we have been manipulating scale, cutting our world down to size for artistic, spiritual and playful purposes. At The Mini Time Machine Museum our visitors keenly feel this intrinsic allure. Here, we are colossal – our panoramic, omnipotent viewpoint of history and lifestyles progressively dissolves into a dazzling microcosm, our gaze going ever deeper from the small house to the smaller rooms, and from there the tiny furnishings and the miniscule décor. At this level, treasures of immense beauty and skill lie waiting for the attentive viewer. This is where we find the work of William R. Robertson, a man whose miniature works are so meticulously fashioned that they defy belief. Each one of his creations is worthy of a museum spotlight, though here they are more frequently tucked into a larger scene. Although unquestionably raising the accompanying work’s level of excellence by sheer proximity, this unfortunately deceives the untrained eye which, following human nature, is more apt to notice the flaw than the flawless. Robertson’s work can therefore seem camouflaged by perfection, patiently waiting for that gasp of appreciation. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
A dollhouse, like our own homes, acquires a personality. Those which were hand-built have been gifted with the tenderness of the builder, who’s loving attention to detail speaks directly to the recipient. A store bought house is no less special, as each added splash of color and delicate trim makes the house unique and irreplaceable. For those lucky few who are fortunate enough to have inherited a dollhouse from a grandmother or a great aunt, the dollhouse becomes a repository of dreams spanning generations, often with a mix of love-worn furnishings to be cherished alongside the new. These dollhouses are by far the most delightful to the eye – no pristine and glossy décor can compare with the palpable affection of childhood’s frayed playthings. The antique dollhouses in our museum’s collection each manifest a certain glow, their wood worn to a shine from decades – in some cases, centuries – of perpetual loving hands. Although their age and craftsmanship lend them remarkable value, it is the residual warmth of bygone youth that draws our visitors in. Truly, our History Gallery seems at times to quietly whisper – unsung stories from glory days, when bones were new and alive with play.
One piece which whispers louder than most is Just Suits, a three-story Victorian created circa 1900 by an unknown craftsman in Malden, Massachusetts. Constructed entirely of cigar boxes, Just Suits reflects the ingenuity of the period. The popularity of cigars, packed in wooden boxes, created an abundant supply of diverse craft wood including mahogany, elm, and rosewood; our Just Suits is comprised of dozens of walnut cigar boxes. The stamped logos of the Buchanan & Lyall tobacco company can be seen on the interior of the house, but it was the discovery of an unused Just Suits brand box lid laying discarded in the attic which gave the piece its name. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
Each miniature room in our collection is a still life portrait, a snapshot of a moment in time. From the inlaid floors to the light fixtures, the furniture to the décor – every detail is a testament to accuracy, that tenuous ideal that pushes miniaturists closer and closer to small-scale perfection. Visitors walking through our galleries are awestruck by the vast and intricate details, each working in unison to create satisfying, rich historical scenes and modern day marvels. The majority of these pieces are the collaborative efforts of numerous miniature artisans, extraordinary specialists dedicated to their craft. One such artisan is John Anthony Miller, whose outstanding miniature etchings are direct evidence of this relentless pursuit.
The beauty of John Anthony Miller’s etchings cannot be overstated. His impeccable, miniscule lines – finer than a human hair – and breathtakingly delicate layers of scenery give his images a depth that can only truly be appreciated upon intimate inspection. They are produced entirely by hand, with no photo enlargement processes, using traditional intaglio methods. In her article, “The Etchings of John Anthony Miller,” Dana Gearhart details Miller’s procedure, beginning with a small piece of 16 gauge copperplate. “The plate is coated with wax grounds, and John draws upon his wax with various dental tools. When the drawing is complete, he dips the plate into an acid bath until it etches the appropriate grooves in the copper.” The plate can then be inked and sent to press, creating limited edition runs with each print as beautiful as the first. Miller then numbers, titles and signs each print by hand, producing exquisite and highly collectible pieces of art. Our own Museum Founder, Patricia Arnell, loved one of Miller’s etchings well enough to place prints of it in three locations within our collection: Around the World can be found on the walls of our Cheshire Regency (George & Sally Hoffman, 1981), Country Store (Ron & April Gill, 1985), and San Francisco Victorian (Michael Lewis, 1979). This lovely scene of hot air balloons in flight highlights Miller’s remarkable skill, with many details being little larger than the period at the end of this sentence. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
Valentine’s Day is a lovely tradition, no longer designated simply for lovers but for good friends and treasured relationships from all walks of life. Receiving some small, unexpected token of warmth brightens hearts and brings a little cheer to us all. Unfortunately, the holiday brings in its wake a tidal wave of confections and amorous offerings to shop shelves, drowning consumers in a flood of sentimental drivel. Cheaply-made stuffed bears holding sequined hearts stare out at us with unblinking eyes, a dismal army of red and pink. This deluge of mass-produced fluff could make any of us feel a bit worn out and cynical. How refreshing it is then, to look at the cherubic work of Rose O’Neill, whose Kewpies, though mass-produced, continue to illicit a sense of nostalgia and sweetness more than 100 years since their first appearance. How can such simple figures, with their roly-poly bodies, starfish hands and turnip-shaped heads, remain iconic darlings recognizable worldwide after more than a century? It can be argued that the enduring love for Kewpies is carried along by the legacy of Rose O’Neill, herself: an artist, writer and sculptor who threw herself entirely into all that she created. O’Neill loved her Kewpies and those who loved them, inviting viewers into her infectious world of merriment and well-intended mischief – not as a bystander but as a citizen, in a land that taught the value of friendship and kindness. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
The New Year is off to a wonderful start here at The Mini Time Machine Museum. We are eager to tackle new program goals, excited to bring new exhibits, and anticipate a joyous spring season in our desert home. The coming of a new year is also a time to reflect on where we have been, pondering our journey with the astute lens of hindsight. The Museum itself caters to rumination, as our name suggests; the march of human progress can be heard throughout our galleries, recreated in three-dimensional still-life portraits of the ages. Art imitates Life, and our dollhouses and roomboxes seize the trappings of culture and innovation like time capsules, conveying entire lifestyles though the appliances, architecture, fashion, food and décor. Miniaturists like Madelyn Cook are historians at heart, rediscovering where we have been and offering up our past like exquisite gift-wrapped parcels – easier to digest in their bite-sized form. In honor of the New Year, we present Cook’s Reflections (ca. 1980s), which undergoes an annual New Year’s Eve transformation during our Wee Winter Wonderland festivities. We keep this temporary alteration on par with Madelyn’s dedication to accuracy, mimicking the vibrancy of an American New Year’s Eve in 1933. While locked in the devastating throws of the Great Depression, this year would mark the first New Year’s Eve after the eradication of Prohibition; as the scene suggests, the would-be miniature revelers have been enthusiastically toasting a changing tide.
Reflections is – quite literally – a shining example of Madelyn’s work. The roombox is a sleek departure from the all-too-common Victorian lace that has come to typify the preconceived notions of the miniature craft. Made almost entirely from black Lucite and mirrors, this Art Deco suite stands out from the crowd in brazen originality. The Art Deco movement – a celebration of clean lines, symmetry, and the progress of Industry – is resurrected here with a provocative elegance, each pristine surface made beguiling by the light. The material for the carpeting is crushed black velvet, the upholstery is black silk; the atmosphere has the silent depth of a cave, fractured by the smart glare of chrome and glass. This strict palette of black, white and silver establishes a tone of wealth almost icy to the touch, broken by minimalistic key notes of red: a bright splash in a Japanese print; the ruby swizzle sticks of the martini tray. Unexpectedly, the coat of one of the Scotties—originally coal black—has faded over the years, appearing now with auburn fur. Although disappointing to Madelyn, I find this display of brash singularity amusing. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
One look at the newspaper will tell you that winter’s icy blast has been hitting hard across the nation. Even here in Tucson, where winters are agreeably mild, we’ve all had to rummage through the garage to discover where we put our ice scrapers. Freezing rains, piles of snow, bitter winds – admittedly, it’s hard to stay jolly when your mistletoes are frozen! Here at The Mini Time Machine Museum, we keep our visitors warm with cheer, celebrating with miniature displays of holiday traditions from throughout history and around the world. Learning about Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year, or the Christkindlmarkts of Germany, or seeing the beautiful details of a traditional Edwardian Christmas keeps everyone feeling merry and bright. Well… not everyone. This time of year, it’s easy to forget our mischievous collection of witches, who celebrate Halloween year-round in our Enchanted Realm Gallery. Dreadfully cold? Calamitous storms? Sounds like ideal conditions for our grinchy witches of Bewitching Spa! Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
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 >>