I like miniatures for several reasons. Most importantly, because anyone can create any person, place, or thing his/her imagination can dream up. Children like "minis" for the same reason, and their imaginations are much better than ours. Adults, with too many years of responsibilities on our shoulders, often don't notice our imaginations slowly withering away as the worry lines on our faces slowly increase. But, with the world of "dollhouses" we can regain our youth. This column then, is dedicated to all women, who as little girls sat for hours in front of our doll's house imagining the goings-on of the "people" living there.
The term "dollhouse" is used loosely by the collectors of miniaturia. Flora Gill Jacobs, in her book A History of Doll's Houses refers to the first known dollhouse as a two room model of a terra cotta house with a mini garden in the back and a copper-lined garden pool. It was found in the tomb of Meket-Re of Ancient Egypt. Even more fascinating, is that the house was only part of a complete miniature village. This discovery provides evidence of the existence of miniatures as an art form farther back than anticipated, and which has been taken for granted, off and on, throughout history. Appreciating the value, today's collectors purchase antique "dollhouses" and their accouterments for display when they are lucky enough to find them. A wonderful family day can be easily spent at a museum where children and adults can view history through the eyes and hands of peoples from long ago.
Today's doll's houses are available in many different forms. These houses can be constructed from a set of pre-drawn plans, a kit, or pre-built and completed to various degrees. It depends on the area of pleasure you and your children choose to derive. The most important thing to keep in mind is how old the children are who will be interacting with the pieces. With smaller children, structures, as well as furnishings need to be extra sturdy.
Miniature hobbyists have many more options today than in the past. Not only are there doll's houses of many various architectures to choose from, but sizes other than the most common, and most accepted by the artisans, 1 ft. equals 1 inch, or "dollhouse scale", are becoming more easily found. Now, the smaller 1/2" scale and 1/4" scale (1' = 1/2" or 1/4") furnishings can be purchased at miniature shows, stores, and catalogs. This has greatly increased the appeal of the hobby for those who have smaller living quarters lacking the display space for a full scale replicas.
Actual "homes" have given way to some quite creative endeavors. For example,
something as simple as a gift bag, purchased from a discount store, can be converted into a "roombox". Paper gift bags covered with flowers or birdhouses can be turned into mini gardens by cutting out a large window in the front of the bag, and strengthening the inside walls by gluing in corresponding paper-covered cardboard. Gift bags are a great way to start the hobby of collecting miniatures for older kids. Bags come in so many ready to decorate themes: birthday parties, circus clowns, teddy bears, celestial stars and moons, baby showers, and even superheros!
It is important to acknowledge, before going further, that "dollhouses" are not just for little girls anymore. There are kits available for log cabins, southwestern adobes, and barns. Ideas with boys in mind are as unlimited as a child's imagination. An empty wooden, foam core, matte board, or cardboard box can be converted into a farm, or veterinarian's office for an animal loving child, a bait shop for a fisher-kid, or an attic for an explorer. An army barracks, a police station, a fire house, a barber shop, a toy shop, or a library are more gender bridge-building projects. I have seen an old, beat up doctor's bag used for a turn-of-the-century doctor's office, a man's worn out cowboy boot used for a ranch hand's home, a hollow log became a gnome's home, an old violin was transformed into a music store, an open brief case became an office, and a bird's house - well....! An oatmeal box lends its shape to Noah's Ark, or a circus tent, and combined with rolls from paper towels, toilet paper, shoe boxes and water dispenser cups becomes a terrific castle once painted. How about using decorated cardboard milk cartons to create a town? I see it all now, half gallon homes with pint size garages, or quart size row houses.
Want more ideas?
Don't forget the holidays! Santa's workshop, a haunted house, the Easter Bunny's egg factory, Cupid's cloud, Washington's cherry tree, a Thanksgiving feast, and Father Time with Baby New Year are just a few thoughts that spring to mind.
Ah yes, there are the four seasons to consider. Think outside! Who needs a container anyway?! Why not create a picnic on some astro-turf, a drive in movie with cars and speaker's on dowels, a snow fort building party, or a beach scene with glued down sand and blue cellophane water?
As long as we're stretching our imaginations we must wander down the roads of fantasy, storybook, and poem. Here we find inspiration from Mother Goose, Brother's Grimm, and Dr. Seuss for those of us who have shared this literature with our children, as well as special literature favorites among miniature collectors and artists such as, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's, Sherlock Holmes and Mary Norton's, The Borrower's. Other possible projects can be derived from literature based movie classics such as, Ben Hur, Gone With The Wind, Moby Dick, Little Women, and Wizard of Oz (being my favorite choice). This list, too, is endless!
In addition, today's generation of children have been gifted with the viewing of educational television programs like Barney, Sesame Street, The World of Richard Scarry, The Magic School Bus, and Beekman's World which can all be easily miniaturized for hands-on play. And last but not least, there's always Disney.
Please keep in mind, when working together with, not for children, pleasure comes from patience. A valuable lesson for both adults and children. We are the role models children emulate and this is not the time to stress YOUR ideas of perfection when the wallpaper is cock-eyed, or the shingles aren't quite level. General concepts of the how's and why's may be all that is needed depending on the age and ability levels of the child. In other words, it is enough to explain how wallpaper is supposed to look when completed prior to allowing your 5 yr. old to place it, expecting that the child probably won't have the fine motor skills required to line the pieces up precisely, but then, as we all know, practice makes perfect. I had to learn to type, and I had to learn to make itsy-bitsy pleats in my mini curtains to get them to hang is if they were full size. If you don't believe me, give it a try for yourself. Go get yourself some fabric and a toothpick! It's not as easy it is appears! When you allow a child to learn by doing hands on they'll get better at it with time, take over for them by showing them the "right way to do it" and you'll lose them. I have taken workshops with children as young as six years old at miniature shows. Seated next to me, two little girls quietly concentrated on creating tiny dolls to take home with them. It didn't matter what the dolls looked like when completed, it was the fact that the "child" created it that was important. These kids are encouraged to try new things by adults who care. I know children who have re-wallpapered, re-carpeted, and re-shingled their "homes" at, what some may think of as impossible for their, young ages. Maybe their standards weren't up to mine, but then their ages aren't either.
So, whether your project will be scratch built, a purchased kit, or recycled household items get busy and get the kids involved...time's a wastin'!
Have a wonderful Mother's Day and a bright, shiny spring!