» Minis Magnified
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.
Written by Museum Services Manager, Emily Wolverton
Issue No. 63 of Minis Magnified will be broken down into three parts, each magnifying a couple exquisite seats in our collection.
Take a Seat! Exploring Some of the Whimsical and Historical Chairs in our Collection. Pt. 1 of 3
Ah yes, the Chair. How can it be that something so utterly mundane can likewise speak volumes about a time period, a culture, or an artistic movement? Throughout history seating has evolved in a class of its own, highlighting human ingenuity and addressing a gamut of personal concerns from the aesthetic to the practical. Chairs can and have been made from a staggering variety of materials, including concrete, wood, bone, plastic, natural fibers, and metal. They are made for comfort, allowing a person to sink into their cushions like an embrace; they are lightweight and compact, durable enough to take a tumble down a hillside. We even have chairs that encourage us not to sit, addressing our new era of prolonged inactivity. Miniaturists are acutely aware of the role that a chair can play in a setting: furniture is a tell-tale indicator of not just the recreated time period but also the social status and personality of the inhabitant. The right chair tells the right story. Throughout our galleries you will find hundreds of miniature chairs, each deserving of appreciation; today, over the next few months we will take a look at just a handful of these small scale seats, those whose historical significance, craftsmanship, and novelty have begged the spotlight.
The Shoo-Fly Chair
Much can be said about brilliant miniaturist, Madelyn Cook. The pieces which she has donated to our collection over the years have become crowd favorites, standing out as stellar examples of dexterity and imagination. Above all else, Cook is a die-hard perfectionist – she does extensive research throughout her planning and building process, capturing concepts and ambience in a way that both educates and delights. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Cook seeks out the unusual and rare, designing palm-sized objects of curiosity which are truly one of a kind. Her “Shoo-Fly Chair” is a shining example of a challenge accepted: it is a replica of one found in the Governor’s Palace Kitchen in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Cook has placed it in her monumental work Lagniappe, an 18th century Virginia Tidelands mansion modeled after George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. The Colonial-era Shoo-Fly Chair is evidence of the resourcefulness of the 18th century, as the spirit of innovation and self-reliance crept into all facets of everyday life. In a time when air conditioning was non-existent, kitchens were stiflingly hot places indeed, with the only relief coming in from open windows. These open windows would create a secondary nuisance: the onslaught of flies. A person sitting in the aptly named Shoo-Fly Chair could press down upon the attached foot pedal, which activated a fringe above the sitter’s head, effectively shooing flies away from the person’s face. Understandably, this chair is a favorite among our museum docents when discussing Lagniappe with our visitors, especially school children.
August 14th, 2015
Written by Museum Services Manager, Emily Wolverton
No Problem Too Big or Too Small: Behind the Scenes with our Museum Facility Manager, Jesse Wiley
Being the Facility Manager of any museum would be a daunting task, but here at The Mini Time Machine Museum the role is something unlike anywhere else. Aside from overseeing the maintenance of our building and museum grounds, our Facility Manager handles the upkeep of many aspects of the collection, itself: most of our contemporary miniature rooms and houses have repair issues similar to their full size equivalent, from the occasional loose shingle to the never-ending need of light bulb replacement. While museum conservators handle the restorative work for our historic pieces, our Facility Manager is the on-call handyman for virtually an entire city of contemporary electrified artifacts. In addition to troubleshooting the electrical aspects of complex exhibits down to the nuts and bolts of the building itself, our Facility Manager is able to take on a wide range of repair and maintenance challenges – on all scales. Jesse Wiley took over the position of Facility Manager in August of 2013, and now two years later, I sat down with him to find out more about how his role here has kept him on his toes.
EW: You’ve been our Facility Manager for two years, now. Do you feel as though you knew two years ago what you were really getting into?
JW: [laughter] Yes, I had a pretty good idea. I knew what to expect from the electrical aspect, but the miniature side of it, not as much – at least in respect to the repairing of the miniatures, themselves. I understood what to expect as far as the museum was concerned. My specialty is in electronics, but my background in model-making has definitely been very useful.
EW: You manage such an impressive range of maintenance issues, from floor to ceiling. What are some examples of the things you might have to fix in a given day?
JW: [laughs, again] You name it. Re-wiring a miniature room, fix a projector, replace a leaky faucet, repair a circuit board… Any kind of repair, really. If I can’t resolve it, I find the person who can.
EW: What has been your most challenging issue, so far?
July 10th, 2015
Tucson, Arizona– July 10, 2015 | written by Museum Services Manager Emily Wolverton
Strolling through our galleries, visitors will quickly realize that our Museum Founder loves animals. Furry friends can be found in many pieces which Pat Arnell acquired, and were almost always incorporated into the pieces which she herself created. She often develops amusing backstories for the pets in her settings and frequently features them in scenes of merry mischief. While the range of critters to be found is varied – from poodles to dragons to mice – there is arguably no animal which can be found in more abundance than the common tabby cat. As a proud cat owner herself, she has bestowed countless feline companions upon the residents of her nutshell neighborhoods, ensuring happy homes for pet and owner, alike. It is no surprise that she fell in love with the miniature cats and feline figures of David Claudon,1 whose theatrical eye enabled him to create cats with robust personalities.
June 11th, 2015
Our museum’s galleries are filled with unique and one of a kind creations, each with a notable history that our visitors may never know. All too often these treasures are passed over with only a slight nod, the visitor unaware of the tenderness that was involved in the making. As a culture, we are so deeply inundated with mass produced trinkets that our eyes must be retrained to catch the truly handmade gifts of patience and skill. As a writer for our museum, it is a pleasure to lift such items out of their settings where they blend so easily as to go unnoticed. When standing tall in the spotlight, I find even the smallest pot can have a story worth telling.
The pottery of Eileen and the late Sid Vernon can be found in collections all over the world, and the attentive visitor will spot their wares throughout our galleries. Vernon Pottery is thrown by hand and extremely well made, reflective of an expert partnership spanning decades. Sid’s masterful eye and Eileen’s delicate precision allowed the duo to work harmoniously, sharing ideas and developing new pieces. In her article, “Behind the Wheel At Vernon Pottery,” Sybil Harp describes the Vernon’s home studio – a converted garage – which allowed the couple to share three of their passions: pottery, animals, and classical music. “Almost every day in the Vernons’ studio, classical music plays on the stereo while a menagerie of animals talk, squawk, chatter, munch and whistle over the hum of the pottery wheels,” writes Harp. She describes the happy goings-on of birds, tortoises, a cat, and even a rescued squirrel, all relaxing in the tranquility of that creative space while Sid and Eileen produced their celebrated salt-glazed pieces. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
May 14th, 2015
With regard to dollhouses, the use of a standardized scale is a relatively modern idea. Although the concept of dollhouses have been around for a few centuries, it was not until the 20th century that standardized scales began to slowly take root, due largely to the toy
industry. The popularity of 1/12 scale – now considered the standard scale for dolls’ houses – began to take hold initially thanks to the international fame of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a monumental feat of the 1920s, which included perfectly scaled and
functional miniaturized replica furnishings from Windsor Castle. However, we can give thanks to adult hobbyists and the resurgence of dollhouse popularity in the 1970s for the ability to find uniformly scaled dollhouse miniatures today, making it easier than at any other time in history to find furnishings that can suit any aficionado’s tastes. From this tidal wave of revived enthusiasm other scales came to find their own devoted following including 1/144 scale, where one inch equals 144 inches in miniature.
Mathematically, this scale is the square root of 1/12 scale and is the ideal scale for a dollhouse within a dollhouse. Masters of this scale are immensely popular, allowing collectors such as our own Museum Founder, Pat Arnell, to display a passion for fine scale miniatures on multiple levels – truly creating worlds within worlds. Continue reading a pdf of this article >>
April 10th, 2015
Although Walter Arnell wasn’t a miniature artisan himself, he encouraged his wife, Pat’s interest and always supported her in her hobby. As Pat’s collection grew he helped design appropriate lighting for viewing the pieces in their home. Walter was very involved with the building of the museum and documented it’s progress as well as miniatures in the collection on film. Pat’s enthusiasm for miniatures even rubbed off on him. This is a guide to several miniatures in our collection that have special relevance to this great man. Continue reading a pdf of this article >>
March 11th, 2015
When visitors come to our museum, they may find themselves astonished by the skill and craftsmanship of the artisans, or swept up in the romance of the love-worn antiques, or simply intrigued by the ancient history of humanity’s fascination with miniatures. But there is something else at play within our walls – an inescapable feeling of nostalgia, a persistent tingle of fond childhood memories that trigger unexpected pleasure. This is a place that can make a person feel like a kid again, that proverbial state of mind of the blissfully young at heart. The world of miniatures by its very design allows us to look at the world through the fresh eyes of wonder. Our Museum Founder, Pat Arnell, is known to tell curious museum-goers that she’s “just a kid who never grew up,” always spoken with a little grin. The Museum is filled with her playful touches, the most beloved of all being our mascot, the fairy Caitlin, who hides throughout the galleries in her many disguises. Pat loves fairies and the rich traditions of fairy lore, making it no surprise that she was drawn to the work of Sue Ann “LadyBug” Thwaite.
Sue Ann Thwaite, known professionally as LadyBug, is regarded as a kind and fanciful spirit in the miniature world. Her miniature scenes and creatures are born from the realms of imagination, deeply rooted in a love for nature and the joyous mischief of fairy folk. In her article, “The Lady Bug Spell,” Marta Bender writes of how Thwaite works primarily with found objects from her environment, assembling buildings just as she did as a young girl during her summers in the Appalachian mountains.1 Thwaite tells Bender of how her “Pap didn’t believe in store-bought toys…he believed that you lived off the land. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, he’d give us a box of toothpicks that we’d use to make log cabins. We would walk along a path and pick up sticks and leaves. When our hands got too full, we’d stop and build little fairy houses.”2 This sort of creative process comes very easily to children, which is why Thwaite has such a wonderful rapport with the children who stop by her booth or attend one of her workshops. Continue reading a pdf of this article >>
February 13th, 2015
February always ushers in a sentimental air, and visitors may find their gaze lingering on the softer details of our collection. Wandering the galleries with an appreciation for an artist’s hints of tenderness leads to countless joyful surprises: the capricious sweetness of children’s bedrooms, the feminine warmth of delicately stitched gowns, or the fragile petals of flowers lighter than a blade of grass. These singular elements contribute to the overall atmosphere of a finished piece and enhance the visitor’s understanding of the artist’s intentions. In this sense, even the smallest details of a work can become critically influential, no matter how subtle they might appear. The painted miniature bronzes of Robert Olszewski have been subtly shaping our visitor’s experience like a silent army, a multitude of diminutive works tucked into all corners of our collection. More than 60 of
Olszewski’s works can be found in our galleries, housed in just under 20 roomboxes and dollhouses.
The great quantity of his work can be traced to our Museum Founder, Pat Arnell. A collector at heart, it is no surprise that Pat has created a miniature world of fellow enthusiasts – her love affair with Olszewski’s small-scale pieces has produced small homes run by his would-be collectors. His statuary adorn bookshelves and fireplace mantles, bedside tables, desks, and credenzas. Once you have learned to recognize his work, you can readily spot them. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
January 23rd, 2015
Our Museum’s History Gallery is filled with artifacts that seem to breathe; their wooden frames and faded paper skins are saturated with untold memories of touch, sounds, and smells. These small houses and miniature rooms are repositories of the past, acting as three-dimensional studies of cultural trends and human ingenuity. Many of the pieces have rich and colorful backstories. For others, their provenance remains largely silent, slowly revealing their chronicles to historians through patient victories. The Daneway House (ca.1775) has divulged some of the most curious stories, thanks largely to the investigative work of Museum conservationist, Casey Rice.
The Daneway House is a George III style Baby House built in England, circa 1775. It was acquired by Museum Founder Pat Arnell in 1988, and restored by Casey Rice that same year. The term “Baby House” refers to a common practice of the wealthy of 17th and 18th century Europe to collect miniatures and display them as a novel curiosity; therefore, Baby Houses resemble stylized cabinets rather than small houses, and are intended to merely show off a collection of miniature pieces rather than be an object of play. At well over 200 years old (older than the United States, itself), the Daneway House has unsurprisingly had multiple owners. Consequently, the piece was altered and in some cases damaged due to the careless actions of these alleged caretakers. For example, the original façade of the Daneway House was lost at some time during its long history. Rice designed a replacement façade based on historical research into the period architecture, which replicates the front wall of the home. This façade would have been attached with hinges to both sides of the cabinet front, opening as two doors that join in the center. For our exhibit purposes the museum keeps the façade on display in a glass cabinet on the wall to the right of the piece. Click here to continue reading a pdf of this article >>
December 12th, 2014
It’s hard not to feel the warm glow of nostalgia during the holiday season, when traditions which have been passed down through generations are once again celebrated with loved ones and friends. For those who celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, this time of year also brings swells of generosity, manifesting in kind deeds, thoughtful words, and considerate gifts to warm the heart and home. For children, the anticipation surrounding these holidays fosters joyous life-long memories of hopes and wishes made true. The “Dream Toy” for children changes as they grow and has evolved with each new generation – but one toy has managed to remain as popular now, as ever: the dollhouse. Read the rest of this entry »
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