Monday, February 24, 2014

I See Everything Small

Yes, reflected in the mirror below, that is my right hand, holding the camera.  And, yes, that is a hand-crafted, wood-veneered vanity set, and a display case with hand-made miniatures inside, all of it under six inches tall.  

Magnolia Tree, 2014 013

These amazing pieces were made by master-miniaturist, Gilbert Mena of Valencia (, in case you’re a collector of very small, very beautiful, very magical things.
Here’s another, a table with carved figures on it, and a set of inlaid marquetry tables.  The marquetry tables are 2 1/2” high.

 Ma8nolia Tree, 2014 014

7agnolia Tree, 2014 012

Amazing, no?  That’s why, on  February 22nd and 23rd, when the Central Coast Miniatures Club (Contact: Miniature Cottage Shop, 1260 Main St. Morro Bay,, held their 24th Anniversary “Dollhouse and Miniatures Show and Sale" at the Morro Bay Community Center,  my first thought was, “Now THIS I gotta go see.” 

miniatures 2

When I entered the door of the packed Community Center, I entered a very big little world: A craft, an art form, an obsession, a hobby, a whole niche industry that ranges from minute, astonishing work by incredible, high-end artisan miniaturists to affordable mass produced products for hobbyists. And everything in between.


If you’re a novice, there is no end of magazine sand books you can buy that will teach you everything  you need to know to create whole, complicated little worlds.

bears 3

I say complicated because so many of these miniatures aren’t just “small, they’re made to a variety of scaled sizes, so everything must be matched to everything else, which means the hunt for items to fit into your scaled little world must get pretty challenging.

In addition, once you build your little tableau, all your amazing work needs to be protected.  So, this is a niche filed by Cortland C. Doan (Cortland Cases: (626) 332-1747) who makes cunning cases you can use to build your display on, then slip it into the beautiful protective case for a wall mount or to set on a table.


Mr. Doan had on display an good selection of his own astonishing work. (In his own cases, of course.)  Above, a garage/workshop; below, a (to scale) tableau of one of the last grey Caterpillars before the company switched to the signature bright yellow paint on all it’s equipment. Here, a welder is at work on the treads. And, yes, Mr. Doan included a flickering LED light standing in for the burning flash of the arc welder.


I spent  a couple of happy hours  peering into and inspecting many of these amazing little worlds.  They are highly seductive places, these tableaux. It was so easy to slip into an Alice-in-Wonderland trance and place myself into the scene -- a miniature me wandering around in a garage or expecting to hear the pop and crackle of an arc welder. It’s the magical, timeless realm of make-believe that children enter when playing with toys, dolls, dollhouses.  And it’s easy to see why people get hooked on this hobby.  Building (or visiting) these little fairy realms creates  a very Zen-like, out-of-time state of mind.

In the back room, was a display of doll houses from different eras (The theme of the exhibition), including a doll house from ca. 1940's that was identical to the one that my sister and I played with when I was four or five.  This one was a higher-end model, made of printed light-weight metal, while ours was printed on some kind of heavy poster board.  The plastic furniture was the same, although we didn't have as many pieces.  And, for some reason, our bathtubs were bright pink. 

Looking at that little abode certainly brought back memories.  Including Joan and me playing with our doll house while it was on the bed (to keep it at our standing eye level) when my sister and I, for reasons that passeth all understanding, thought it would be a swell idea to play a game of bounce-on-the-bed. Or maybe it was a game of "Earthquake." So, what could possibly be wrong with that hair-brained combination of activities? Correct: a smashed flat dollhouse.  And a mother looking into our fake-innocent faces ("What?? We didn't do anything.  It just fell down."), rolling her eyes and declaring, "No more doll houses for you two."

Well, all was not lost.  We had to use our imaginations a bit harder to conjure up a make believe doll house, but we continued to play doll house all over our real house, setting up our little bits of furniture to create wall-less rooms in the middle of the living room rug.  And years later  I re-purposed the bright pink bathtubs as food and water stations for my pet rats.  An incongruous decorating choice, I must admit.  Although, with rats, you never know.

When I left the exhibition, it was with a smile on my face and a comment to the nice lady selling entrance tickets, "That was the best $4 I've spent in a long time!" 

There's something about spending time in the magical spaces of tiny Smallville that makes you feel like a kid again.  Ready for magic, open to astonishment.  And joy. 

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