Hobbyists experience the magic of miniatures

During the March 10, 2013 meeting of the Mini Magic of Maine Club, Norma Smith of Ellsworth creates a miniature front porch that stresses a summer theme. Beyond Smith, Betsy Eggleton of Ellsworth works on a similar project.
BDN Brian Swartz
During the March 10, 2013 meeting of the Mini Magic of Maine Club, Norma Smith of Ellsworth creates a miniature front porch that stresses a summer theme. Beyond Smith, Betsy Eggleton of Ellsworth works on a similar project.
Posted March 20, 2013, at 9:02 a.m.

By Brian Swartz

Weekly Staff Editor

When NASCAR fans collect driver memorabilia, they do not make the model race cars that line their display shelves.

When they collect team and player souvenirs, football fans make neither the NFL jerseys nor autographed game balls that proclaim loyalty to particular teams.

But when Rita Crawford, Anne Deschaine and Barbara Hall pursue their passion, they make the memo-rabilia.

So do Betsy Eggleston, Norma Smith and Connie Teolis. There’s no shopping for the finished product in a store for these women, who along with others belong to the Mini Magic of Maine Miniature Club.

The operative word is “mini,” as in miniature dollhouses. Club members not only love miniature doll-houses, the women make such dollhouses and everything that goes into them.

And a whole lot of other hobbyists do, too, so many in fact that a national organization exists to connect them and their hobby.

“We make these dollhouse miniatures,” Crawford says. “It’s not for play. We enjoy making the things that go into the houses. If it’s not [for] a house, it’s [for] a room box.”

She explains that “most people, when they were little, were fascinated by replicas of things or would make little shadow boxes,” which are scenes created inside shoeboxes. These women remember making such crafts when they were young; now the club members move that childhood art to new levels by painstakingly crafting highly detailed miniature dollhouses and the affiliated furnishings.

Gathered for the club’s meeting on a sunny March Sunday, six women work diligently on the club’s current project. “We’re working on [constructing] a little wreath with a front porch inside it,” Crawford explains.

Each woman crafts a porch scene to be set inside the cutout bottom of an oatmeal container. Like most other club members, Eggleston opts for a winter scene framed by an oval wreath. She lives in Ellsworth.

Beside her sits Smith, another Ellsworth resident. “I’m working on a summer scene,” Smith says while displaying her miniature. It features a porch with blue-painted railings, a touch of grass and hollyhocks spreading along the porch roof.

“The whole thing is made out of cardboard, pieces of wood, an oatmeal box, and whatever else I can find to use,” Smith says.

At the next table, Hall creates a miniature Christmas scene incorporating the front door and windows and porch of a New England house. A Christmas wreath hangs on the door; beneath the porch floor, a mouse family gathers for the holiday season.

A decorated Christmas tree stands inside a double window. “It’s a little sisal tree that I had to trim to fit” into the miniature, says Hall, who lives in Belfast.

The dimensions that the women use are small-scale; patience, good eyesight and a steady hand are requisite for building miniature dollhouses and furnishings. “Most miniatures are done in a 1-inch scale: 1 inch equals 1 foot,” Crawford says. Even smaller ¼-inch and ½-inch scales are appearing in miniature dollhouses.

Each woman has a different reason as to why she took up making miniature dollhouses. “It’s a fun thing to do,” says Eggleston. “I still have my original dollhouse from when I was 7. I think I always kept my interest, but until I became a member of this club” 10 years ago, “I never made much.

“Now I have a dollhouse for my granddaughter that I am renovating. Somebody gave it to me,” she says. “I’m giving it fresh paint, a new roof, furniture that can be played with by a 6-year-old.”

“I found my mother’s dollhouse in the attic, and I used to make things for my trolls, and then they needed a place to live,” Deschaine says. A Clifton resident, she stresses that her “trolls” are not spelled with a “z” and that she acquired them in the 1960s.

Crawford never intended to become a miniature dollhouse enthusiast. “I kept my dolls from when I was little,” she says, explaining that through contact with the Maine-ly Dolls Club in the late 1980s, she started collecting a few dolls.

“They took up a lot of room,” she admits. “I liked the dolls, but I was more fascinated by the miniatures.”

While attending a Bangor doll show in Bangor in 1991, Crawford overheard two exhibitors talk about starting a club for people interested in miniature dollhouses. She helped organize the Mini Magic of Maine Miniature Club that year; nine women initially belonged to it.

“Our purpose is to get together with other people who collect the same thing and [to] make things together,” Crawford says.

“You find out this is something that people do all over the world,” she points out.

Teolis credits “my sister” for getting her interested in miniature dollhouses. “I started collecting [dollhouses] in the ’80s,” she says. Teolis did not know about the Mini Magic club until, while sitting in a Bangor Adult Ed class on “how to sell on eBay,” she watched the student beside her place an image of a miniature dollhouse on her computer screen.

The student was Crawford; Teolis soon joined the club.

In 2007 the Mini Magic of Maine Miniature Club joined the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts. According to www.miniatures.org, NAME “was founded in 1972 by Allegra Mott to promote the craft of miniature making through the association and friendship of its artisans, craftsmen and collectors.

The Indiana-headquartered “NAME is an educational, non-profit organization dedicated to the miniature collector and builder through sharing ideas and experiences among its members,” the web site indicates.

“Our goal is to link people of like minds in order to share our love of the hobby that captivates us,” according to the web site.

And NAME memberships certainly “link people of like minds,” according to the Mini Magic members hard at work on this particular Sunday. “An advantage of being a NAME club? It is going to the national convention with 500 people with the same interest [and being] in the same room [with them],” Eggleston says.

“Last year, six of us went” to the national convention in Charlotte, N.C., Crawford says. Some club members plan to attend the 2013 convention, scheduled for Tucson in mid-July.

Each convention features multiple classes, and education “helps us keep up on what’s new,” Crawford says.

The Mini Magic of Maine Miniature Club meets the second Sunday of each month; “we are here to learn as much as to work on our projects,” says Teolis, who lives in Bangor.

“We take turns teaching subjects,” especially those pertaining to club projects, Smith says. Some members meet weekly to “learn from each other” and discuss their hobby, she says.

For Maine-based miniatures, the Guild School held each June at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine represents the crème de la crème of miniature education. Organized by the International Guild of Miniature Artisans (www.igma.org), the Guild School brings teachers and students together for a week to learn many aspects of the miniature world.

“The Guild School is for people like me who want to be amazed at what you can do,” Crawford says.

With the theme “To Infinity and Beyond,” the 32nd Annual Guild School will take place June 8-14 at MMA. The school will offer 48 classes taught by 34 instructors.

For information about the Mini Magic of Maine Miniature Club, call 942-0326.

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