Photo Essay

Memories in Miniature

Who Is It?

I don't really play with dolls! But I do make miniatures. There is something magical about the world of very tiny things, a world I first discovered at the age of 5 when I first saw Colleen Moore's legendary doll house at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. To call it a "doll house" doesn't do it justice, and would stretch the term. Often called the Fairy Castle, that astounding display could not be reproduced at any cost today, done as it is in real gold, real diamonds, precious jewels and priceless artifacts, some dating back to Rome and Egypt from antiquity.

Tiny books, gilt and bound in finest leather, are printed page by page and possible to read. Some are autographed by famous authors, dozens of them, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Edna Ferber, John Steinbeck, Noel Coward, many more. One contains the tiny signatures of six American presidents. Another, from 1840, is the world's smallest Bible. The exquisite tiny organ really plays, as does its counterpart, the piano. The furniture in many rooms is inlaid silver, all the dinnerware is gold or jade, the Picasso on the wall is really by Picasso and a framed Mickey Mouse was done for Colleen Moore by Walt himself. Books could be penned about the doll house - many have - and I only cite it as an inspiration here.

Although I didn't play with dolls too much when I was small, I guess in later years the memory surfaced; that, and inspiration from a friend in California got me interested in doing miniatures some years ago and I have loved them ever since. No gold or precious gemstones, though! I like to work with found items - everything from thimbles to toothpicks, doll house toys, odds and ends from nature, anything that "works." Now and then I do buy miniatures like sofas, dressers, tables but I like to make my own additions such as photos, books, food and any other item I may want around the house.

This project was a special one for me, a "memory house" I did after moving back from Baja, Mexico in 2004. It is not a copy of the home we had, but a compilation of the many homes I saw there and is filled with momentos both from friends and events.

Photographing miniatures, I found, is difficult at best! Digital has made it easier, as you can take as many pictures as you like and then retain the best. I used to try to photograph my projects using film, but that meant waiting for the prints to be developed, then finding later that the focus wasn't sharp enough (this stuff is really small!) or, as often happened, some little object on a table tumbled over to the floor, ruining the shot.

Life was unique in Mexico. We lived in a large community of Gringos (that is, anyone who wasn't Mexican) near San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez along the eastern coast of the peninsula. There was no electric then (and I'm talking of the 1990's) so we lived on solar, trucking in our water and our propane. Even now, most of Baja is a wilderness. Coyotes often drank from my bird-bath, more than once rattle-snakes made their way into in the yard and you learned very quickly not to dig in dark, shadowed places - even laundry! - just in case a scorpion was hiding out. Still, the beaches were exquisite, the desert there is strange and beautiful beyond description, and the friends we made were wonderful. Once beyond the light pollution of the USA, the stars at night were so incredible, they made you catch your breath. Even the quiet there was magic. Sometimes at night, all you heard was the swish of owl wings over-head, maybe wind from distant canyons and the crying of coyotes in the far ravines. We did have a bar and grill... much noisier, but that's another story, for another time!

Today, the Baja of the 90's is the Baja of the past, although I do like to think that further south, wild places still exist. Electric power came, then the big developers, and then the crowds, building ever-bigger homes and ever-bigger shopping malls. The saying was, "If you didn't go to Baja yet, you missed it all." Houses much like this one still exist, I'm sure but living there is probably not so magical, especially after dark.

I hope you enjoy this little peek into a tiny world.

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