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The Marvelous World of Modern Miniatures

Mar 12, 2013

by Lisa Butterworth

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

The food looks fantastic. There’s a just-sliced loaf of bread and assorted cheeses, oysters with lemon wedges and cocktail sauce, chocolate-dipped bananas, shamrock-shaped cookies, candy, even a three-layer red velvet cake slathered with snow-white icing. And oh yeah — not a single thing is larger than a penny.

Faux Lilliputian edibles are just one facet of the whimsical world of miniatures. You can also find a Beatles album the size of your thumbnail, apothecary bottles smaller than a thimble, and a copy of Lolita that looks no larger than an acid tab — strangely appropriate considering the mind-bending nature of this teeny-tiny genre of craft.

If miniatures make you think of dusty dollhouses filled with Victorian furniture, think again. Today’s teeny-tiny universe is as diverse as its enthusiasts and the genre’s trends, not surprisingly, tend to mimic real life movements. A 1989 New York Times article noted that Shaker and Southwest dollhouse styles were on the rise, and a 2010 story focused on modernist miniatures: people whose collections are stocked with mid-century-inspired pieces like Eames chairs and Noguchi replicas.

Today, Heather Espana’s creations for her shop Puttering — including miniscule heirloom tomatoes, brightly colored party hats, and felted ball garlands — resemble lifestyle blogs come to life and shrunk down to doll-size. Modernity influences Minnie Kitchen as well. Her love for tiny items began when she took a family trip to Tokyo, where miniature food collectibles made of plastic were all the rage. Now she uses polymer clay to create her own versions of diminutive bites so realistic, you might be tempted to take a taste of a cookie that fits on your fingertip.

MarquisMiniatures

Miniature artist’s paint box.

Lauren Delaney George’s affinity for miniatures started in childhood too, thanks to her grandfather’s dollhouse-building hobby. “I’ll always remember my grandpa’s hands, beautiful in their way, though gnarled with arthritis, and my pride at having a grandpa whose hands could work that kind of magic,” she says. One Christmas, she decided to make a box of personalized accessories for her grandmother’s dollhouse — micro family portraits and handmade quilt replicas, a teeny facsimile of her grandma’s wedding dress — and her love of miniature-making was born. Now, using all sorts of materials, including paper, clay, and acrylic paint, Delaney creates not only everyday items — pencils, Moleskin notebooks — in 1:12 scale, but also things more eccentric in nature, like miniature bones, magical maps, and micro shark teeth. “I think that, for the modern collector, a dollhouse can still be a cabinet of curiosity,” she says. “Its miniature rooms are like little stages for acting out scenes of fantasy, memory, and ambition.”

Of course, our fascination with tiny treasures is nothing new. “People have been making miniatures for as long as we have been civilized,” George says. “There seems to be this ancient and universal impulse to create and interpret things on a small scale.” In fact, one of the oldest known sculptures, discovered in Germany and dating back 36,000 years, depicts a pinky-sized woman carved from ivory. Ancient Egyptians were often buried with wooden models, which depicted the everyday activities they were expected to continue doing in the afterlife. “We still derive a certain power from creating and controlling tiny environments,” George says.

LDelaney

These tiny shelves come stocked with over 250 individually crafted miniature books.

If you want to try your hand at creating your own tiny environment, True2Scale offers DIY kits so you can whip up dishware, dessert towers, and even holiday villages for the world’s smallest mantels. It’s a craft that takes know-how and patience. “Creating very tiny objects involves the knowledge of various processes and materials,” says True2Scale’s Carol. “There is so much to learn and do within the realm of miniatures.” Sue Kirkham, the maker behind Home Petite Home, agrees that the craft involved is one of miniatures’ biggest appeals. “I think that miniatures capture a whole range of skills that anyone can enjoy, from handmade sculpted food items to miniature needlework, wood work, even glass blowing. The range of skills is endless,” she says. “For the collector, it is an opportunity to enjoy someone else’s talent and share their imagination, to create a nostalgic bygone era or a fantasy world of their very own.”

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Miniatures are a way for people to live out their biggest dreams in the tiniest manner. “The world of miniatures lets you dream, create, live the past, and dive into your own passions,” says the miniature maker behind Etsy shop Lilliputs Treasures. “It’s not just a hobby or a pastime, it’s also a way of thinking, of seeing things.” Lauren Delaney George agrees. “When I was little, I was obsessed with the idea of time travel,” she says. “Recreating historical scenes in miniature is about as close to time travel as I’ve been able to come!” Even everyday objects can ignite miniature makers’ passions. “I try to get inspiration from everywhere and anywhere,” says the crafter behind Minnie Kitchen. “The trick is to maintain constant vigilance and perceive objects and places on a different scale. A simple walk past a bakery shop window or a trip to the mall can lead to endless ideas and inspirations.”

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3 Featured Comments

  • JKistlerStudios

    Jennifer Kistler from JKistlerStudios said 4 years ago Featured

    So great to see miniatures getting the spotlight! They are a great way to have something we otherwise could not. I have been involved with equine miniatures (realistic scale miniature horses, saddles, and all things horsey) since childhood because I could not have a real horse when I was a kid. And if you want to do creative work, making your own (as I did and still do sometimes) can involve all sorts of creative work and skills.

  • GrowingUpWild

    Kelly Engel from GrowingUpWild said 4 years ago Featured

    Such fun! I think people often underestimate the huge amount of time that goes into making items so small. I love the attention to detail and whimsical nature of your features.

  • aromacandles

    Laura from aromacandles said 4 years ago Featured

    This reminds me of the days when I was younger, getting lost in the dollhouse my father made for me. I loved going to the store to pick out new "furniture" for my living room or bedroom. Aaahhh.... fond memories! It would have been so much easier to completely furnish my pad had Etsy been around then!!!

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