Learn About Miniatures

What makes miniatures so compelling? Why are people, both young and old and regardless of affinity or background, attracted to them? Why is it important that we preserve this art form that has been around for thousands of years? We've compiled these articles to shed light on these questions and explain the fascination with tiny objects.

Why Miniatures: Symbolism in Miniature

Why Miniatures is a series of articles written by TMTM Executive Director, Nina Daldrup, exploring the human connection with miniatures.

 

Miniatures are a great way to communicate non-verbally. Messaging in miniature can be simple and obvious, like placing a small American flag in a room box or a miniature landscape to demonstrate your patriotism, or more complex, as when we use the language of color to decorate a miniature and subtly suggest a mood or emotion.

We often talk of using balance and symmetry in a miniature to give a sense of unity and coherence. We may use repetition to create rhythm, or asymmetry to make our miniatures more active and alive. All of these techniques for using inanimate objects to communicate a subliminal message are really just the use of symbolization. Our ability to use symbols to create meaning sets us apart from all other creatures. Writing systems, numbering systems, maps and models are all ways we use symbolism to communicate.

Scale models are often used as teaching tools to demonstrate concepts and outcomes, and to allow students to formulate questions and test hypotheses before actually encountering the problem or experience in real time at full size. As young children develop reasoning skills they learn to differentiate between the dual representation of a model as an object in itself and as a representation, or symbol, of something larger.

The next time you place a tiny white rose within a delicate display evoking the innocence of youth, think about your extensive, and nearly unconscious, vocabulary of symbols and how it enriches the art of miniatures you create for all to enjoy.



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Why Miniatures: Making the Most of a Miniaturized Landscape

Why Miniatures is a series of articles written by TMTM Executive Director, Nina Daldrup, exploring the human connection with miniatures.

 

For hundreds of years, humans searching for identity and meaning have turned to nature as a starting point. We have personified familiar and sometimes fearsome aspects of nature, like Mother Nature and the Man in the Moon, to create not only a manageable context for understanding the forces of nature, but a lexicon for the deep emotional ties we have with the natural world.

To experience nature, whether in a grand wilderness, or a window box, is to suspend the structure of everyday life, if only briefly, allowing us to clear our minds, relax and enjoy the moment. There is an intimacy for us in nature that is restorative for mind and body. It is no wonder that people find gardening therapeutic, and the occasional hike in the hills as transformational.

Not surprisingly, gardening and the creation of magnificent landscapes in miniature has also been enjoyed for centuries as therapy and for simple enjoyment. The most obvious example of this is the ancient art of bonsai, or miniature tree cultivation, practiced by Far Eastern cultures dating back to the Han Dynasty of 200 BC in China. The ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, claimed that bonsai cultivation allowed one to discover the world without leaving one’s home.

Whether you choose to cultivate live plants in a miniature landscape, or to create the garden of your dreams in paper and clay, it is comforting to know that your efforts are well spent and beneficial. Our relationship with nature actually helps to strengthen problem solving and perception skills by exposing us to fragility, the passage of time, incompleteness, asymmetry, simplicity and, of course, beauty. The hours we spend developing our miniature gardens are an investment paid back in psychic energy and well being that will last a lifetime.



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Why Miniatures: An Interview with Patricia Arnell on Collecting Miniatures

Why Miniatures is a series of articles written by TMTM Executive Director, Nina Daldrup, exploring the human connection with miniatures. On April 20, 2012, Nina interviewed TMTM founder, Patricia Arnell, for this article.

 

ND: Pat, what does your collection of miniatures mean to you?

PA: It makes me happy. I like to imagine being in the buildings. I think I was born a collector. I remember at about age three asking my mother “what’s a collection?” My father traveled for business and brought me American Indian dolls from the trading posts that were so prevalent in those days at train depots. Each trip meant another doll for “my collection,” as he referred to it. Soon I had collections of all sorts of things, storybook dolls, and small porcelain and glass items. I liked my dollhouse furnishings most of all. They ultimately became the inspiration that led to building the museum.

ND: Do you think your collection has the same impact on others?

PA: I think it is different for everyone. Some people want to make everything themselves, some are the opposite. I am both.

ND: Are there themes, or specific goals that drove your decision-making?

PA: I would see something at a miniature store here in Tucson (the store is no longer in business) that inspired me. Soon, I was subscribing to magazines about miniatures which were a great resource. I found out about NAME, the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts, and the local club – Tucson Miniature Society. They weren’t accepting new members at the time, but then president, Louella LeCompte, got me to go anyway and soon I was very actively involved.

ND: Are you interested in restoration of old or historic pieces?

PA: I stayed away from “ruins” for the most part, because I was much more interested in creating something unusual. I did look for a period house for my old childhood doll furniture and discovered auctions. At first, I didn’t like the old houses of some collections because they were often dusty and showed wear. However, Vivien Greene, Graham Greene’s wife, had a wonderful dollhouse museum near Oxford, England she called the Rotunda. It housed quite a wide variety of miniatures of very high quality that really opened my eyes to the potential of historic pieces. There was a funny cat, too, that followed you everywhere throughout the building, as though guarding the collection. (To learn more about collector Vivien Greene click here)

ND: Did you ever feel driven to find certain pieces or to compete with others to acquire something special for the collection?

PA: I never thought of the collection as having “gaps”, and consequently didn’t need to seek out specific items. I did, however, find myself in the awkward position of having to bid aggressively for a piece at auction. I first saw “Just Suits,” the house made entirely of walnut cigar boxes, in a catalog and knew that it would be a lovely addition to the collection. It was a complete surprise to me that the bidding for that house would be so fierce and that the other bidder would be so bitterly disappointed when I outbid her.

ND: Did your collection connect you with other people?

PA: Oh, yes. The clubs and shows brought out so many people interested in miniatures and we made many friends. And of course there were many dealers, and the artisans themselves, that were so interesting to follow and to meet and talk with. When I had the collection at the house, small tours came through and I enjoyed meeting those people as well.

ND: Do you think you have renown as a collector of miniatures?
PA: My husband, Walter, and I have become well known in the miniature world. Even though Walter early on said “We won’t have it in the house.”, he too got to know everyone and was eventually asked to join the NAME board and stand for office. We enjoyed being involved together. It was Walter who started me on the Department 56 collectibles. Secretly, I think it made his shopping so much easier!

ND: Were there limitations to your collecting?

PA: I’d have to say, a well made doll. Dolls bring a house to life. And there should always be an animal! There were certain artisans like Brooke Tucker, Pam Throop and Bluette Meloney that I wanted to be sure were represented. I did eventually commission several things – the Forget Us Not Castle, the Brownstone room boxes and the Fairy Museum, all by Ron and April Gill. The Tribute to Erté by Brooke Tucker was a very important commission because she designed the entire room around a drafting table that I had purchased.

ND: Are you still collecting?

PA: Once in a great while. You don’t want to buy everything you see. Twenty years of collecting is a long time!



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Miniatures at Large: The Secret World of Fairy Gardens

Miniatures at Large is a monthly column examining the broad appeal of miniatures.

FairyGarden1Many people are fascinated by miniatures but don’t have space in their homes to pursue the hobby. Fairy Gardens are an excellent entry point for the non-miniaturist. They allow us to create miniature scenes and settings in an area that for many of us already exists, rather than having to make more room for our creations.
Creating a Fairy Garden can be a simple or elaborate project. The idea is to create a magical, miniature environment perfectly suited to beckon some fairies to come and play or stay. A whole array of already made Fairy Garden dwellings and accessories are available for purchase. For some, half the fun is making these items from natural elements like twigs and stones. Some folks like to add fairies, while others prefer to imagine the fairies that come to visit when no one is looking.
Guest columnist, Darlene Buhrow, from the Tucson Botanical Gardens has identified a few plants, tiny in scale, to combine perfectly with any fairy abode. Click here to read a pdf of this article >>



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Why Miniatures: Fairy Tales and the Feminist Agenda

Why Miniatures is a series of articles written by TMTM Executive Director, Nina Daldrup, exploring the human connection with miniatures.

 

Over many centuries, women’s interest in fairy tales has waxed and waned like the moon. Most often, fairy tales are popular at times of civil strife, when society’s disinterest or outright mistrust of the female consciousness does not allow women literary opportunities for the expression of feminist thoughts and ideals.

In times of enlightenment, like the late 17th century, or the early 20th century, educated women organized and met in salons to develop agendas in support of a non-violent, balanced, social system, where love is a civilizing force. Often, though, women’s ideals of fairness and equality are ultimately censored or silenced, forcing their retreat to a fantasy world.

In fairy tales, the expression of feminist ideals finds an innocent disguise that allows women to explore their own heroic journeys. Even the physical embodiment of a fairy allows women to understand and appreciate the feminine physique as a beautiful and powerful symbol for change.

In modern times, women have made great gains in their quest for equality. Yet fairy lore and the tales of the past still hold great significance. Fairy god-mothers, for example, are dedicated to making the world a better place. No task or request is unworthy of the fairy god-mother’s ardent attention. She is all powerful, and without ego, as she sets solutions in motion.

Fairy tale miniatures are a part of the feminist legacy documenting the evolution of some of our most important societal values. To be sure, men’s contributions to this body of work are also important. Embracing the rare and wonderful treasure we have wrought under difficult circumstances brings new meaning to the fairy tale aspect of our history.



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Why Miniatures: A Place for Memory and History

Why Miniatures is a series of articles written by TMTM Executive Director, Nina Daldrup, exploring the human connection with miniatures.

 

In times past, traditions and customs were handed down through generations. Change came slowly and life unfolded in a more or less predictable fashion. Our ancestors had little need to record and preserve the details of daily life because they did not experience a material sense of loss associated with the passage of time. Memories were integrated into the customs, relationships, and ethics of families and whole communities, accumulating over time as richly diverse cultural identities and resources.

The historic record was largely a literary function for reconstructing and recording important events and the accomplishments of people through the ages. In a way, the emphasis and attention placed on producing an accurate and detailed historic record trivialized a need to capture the sentiment and memories that shaped lives, if not the world.

Our society has experienced an “acceleration of history” with the melding of cultures and the breakdown of family and workplace traditions. With this change, we are becoming super conscious of memory and a feeling that everything is disappearing. We are acutely aware that while history is about the past, memory is about life. Memory is magical.

The modern day love of miniatures often begins with a small collection of meaningful mementos that we have accumulated on a shelf or in a drawer. These little objects represent people, experiences or occasions in our lives that we want to remember. We experience pleasure when looking at and handling our treasures, and they come to represent who we are in a rapidly changing world. Ultimately, the quest for memory is the search for our history.

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is unique among its peers in that value is placed equally on preserving history and memory in miniature, both as important aspects of our culture. While we pay homage to historical artifacts that relay important stories of the past, we are delighted and comforted by beautiful collections of familiar objects that capture a more recent moment in time. As civilization marches on, having a space for memory has become increasingly more important for humans in search of meaning amidst the chaos.



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Why Miniatures: The Flow Experience

Why Miniatures is a series of articles written by TMTM Executive Director, Nina Daldrup, exploring the human connection with miniatures.

 

Whether we are crafting a fine scale miniature work of art or dressing up a miniature room, we often find ourselves immersed in the activity, losing all sense of time.

Actions that require our focused attention, increasing degrees of skill, and rules or boundaries that guide our work can become “flow” experiences. As we are carried by the flow deeper into our work, our full participation and open engagement strengthen our sense of self and place creativity at the center of our being.

In essence, to be human is to be creative. Creativity is a relational process taking place between persons, or between a person and something else. Creativity lives in the space between us. That is why we find beauty and sometimes true romance in human relationships.

The creative process and the joy it engenders can cause specific areas of the brain to release healing bio-chemicals, such as endorphins, that are wholesome and sometimes quite pleasurable. This is the mind-body connection at it most efficacious, providing healthful consequences and opening us up to loving, trusting relationships with those we care about.

There are many reasons to love miniatures. Since miniatures almost always lead us to a flow of creative thought, you might agree that they also allow us to experience and share love with others, opening a tiny door to a healthy, joyful life.



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Why Miniatures: Looking at Things in New Ways

Why Miniatures is a series of articles written by TMTM Executive Director, Nina Daldrup, exploring the human connection with miniatures.

 

Detail from Elaine Cannon's Grandmother Retiring by Elaine Cannon from the collection of The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures. The dolls head is carved from a hickory nut.

For thousands of years, humans have built models and miniature representations as a means to aid thought and the development of ideas. This cognitive niche emerged from the continuous interplay between individuals and their environment and it allows us to continually improve our lives and surroundings.

Miniaturists often approach an object with an entirely different perception of its use and usability than its design affords. By re-purposing objects to use in a miniature representation, we define a new set of “affordances”, or uses, for the objects, transforming their intended function to something that suits our unique requirements.

Using our intuition, and looking at things in new ways, we develop the creative insight that leads to learning and self discovery at a much deeper level – an exciting and important aspect of the emotional fulfillment that miniatures bring to our lives.



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Why Miniatures: The Power of Make Believe

Why Miniatures is a series of articles written by TMTM Executive Director, Nina Daldrup, exploring the human connection with miniatures.

 

Many people think make believe belongs only to childhood and that through imaginative play we develop the creativity and imagination that will define the way we interact with the world as adults. Indeed, creativity is highly correlated with an openness to experience. Engaging in fantasy imagining, we develop “what-if” and “would-be” thinking that becomes the important deductive reasoning of adulthood. Make believe does not disappear with the onset of adulthood, but our make believe activities definitely change as we mature.

Miniatures are a representational art form – they depict something that is easily recognized by most people. In miniatures, fantasy and reality are playfully joined. They may be exquisitely detailed examples of real world objects and places, yet marvelously and inexplicably magical – playing on our senses through an imaginative use of props and symbolism. We have a higher degree of comfort with art that is recognizable, and an even stronger attraction to art that allows us to develop our own make believe narrative about its purpose and meaning.

As entertaining as miniatures are to make and to enjoy, their value is even greater when appreciated for the resilient thinking and social interplay they encourage. Rooted in reality, they are still the powerful stuff of our fondest wishes and radiant dreams.

Make, believe.



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Why Miniatures: Control

Why Miniatures is a series of articles written by TMTM Executive Director, Nina Daldrup, exploring the human connection with miniatures.

 

What remains outside our range of convenience becomes annoying, ultimately making us feel anxious and out of control. A cramped, poorly designed kitchen demonstrates this point well.

Who hasn’t begun preparing a holiday menu only to become overwhelmed with the details of chopping, measuring, sifting, and combining – all while hunting for seldom used cookware and unusual ingredients? Add a few hungry, noisy relatives, an afternoon filled with plans and activities, and a burned pie crust and there goes the holiday.

Ah, but some of us can slip away to a special world where our idealized miniature kitchen is a sanctuary reserved for the pleasure of preparing a sumptuous feast on time and to perfection.   Our counters and floors are oh so clean, and every detail is coordinated beautifully.  In our tiny kitchens, our creativity is boundless and time stands still.

Do we enjoy miniatures because they allow us a sense of control?  Perhaps. Among the many motivations for making miniatures, control can be a good thing.

Historically, tiny kitchens served as testing grounds for young/future housekeepers who otherwise might be at a loss or overwhelmed by their adult responsibility without this youthful experience. Exercising control of a miniature environment might encourage us to adapt our real-life experiences to more closely match what we test, learn and love in miniature. This kind of activity expands our range of convenience allowing us to be more tolerant, more understanding, and maybe even a little more thankful for the “worlds” we live in.



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