Miniatures have always held a special place in my heart. There’s something magical and charming about the creation of tiny worlds – homemade fantasies – in diorama form that you can observe from a macro viewpoint that just tugs at your heartstrings. They inspire a childlike fascination, and when you admire these miniature worlds, it makes you appreciate their fragility, as well as your own.
An Artistic Vantage Point
As a kid growing up in Dayton, Ohio, my dad collected miniature train sets. He often took me along to hobby stores to hunt for the latest weekend project he planned to perfect – a German castle he could build, tiny people he could position in realistic scenes around a city center, fuzzy green foliage for a forest scene, or a caboose for his train.
When we’d get home, he’d open the new boxes, and I’d stare in awe at plastic molded grey sheets of bits and bobs shaped like cutouts of buildings or other mysterious things. He would carefully snap off each miniscule plastic grey bit and piece it together with glue to form a larger structure. This often took hours, if not days.
By the end of his labor, the structure would loosely resemble the image on the box, but to breathe life into it, Dad would sometimes paint the leftover pieces to match its photograph. Then, a week or two later, I’d spot a new member of the train set resting on the card table in the basement where he set up his display.
At the top of the table was an Alpine mountain covered with fake snow, with green moss lining the bottom. The town and the train that surrounded it resembled a Swiss skiing getaway, perhaps somewhere he and my German mother traveled to before I was born.
As I got older and moved out of my parents’ house during college, I noticed the card table had been folded up, and only the best parts of the train set and its town remained on display on top of the giant entertainment center and bookshelf in our family living room. Somehow, it was always a comfort to see them there – an ode to my childhood and to the imagination my dad instilled in me.
When I turned 40 this year, Dad decided to pack up many of those remaining miniatures, retiring them for good. He asked me which ones I wanted to inherit one day. The thought of him dismantling those artistic creations made me tear up, so I pointed to half of them (more than I have room for) and asked him to kindly keep them for me, as I would treasure them. He gladly did so and wrapped them in protective plastic to store away until “one day” arrives.
Berlin Museum of Miniatures
When my parents and I visited my family in Berlin, Germany in 2019, we stopped by the Little BIG City Berlin, an impressive array of miniatures telling highlights of the history of Berlin as a city – from its founding through World War II, Hitler’s awful regime and the Holocaust, to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
It was all laid out there in front of us like 3D time travel, showing the good and the evil, and eventually the moment when good finally overcame evil.
We spent several hours in this museum studying each scene to find the tiny details that made it special. The miniature David Hasselhoff figurine singing “Freedom” and saying “Tear down this wall” at the end of the exhibit is the one detail that not only made my heart swell warmly but also made me giggle a bit at its pageantry and overwhelming sentimentality. I had found the humor in the history.
Thus, I realized how miniatures not only allow us to explore and build realms of fantasy, but they also allow us to recreate dioramas of historical impact – a tribute to honor those who have fallen and those who have triumphed.
I’d soon learn the importance of how to do that for myself.
Creating to Heal
In March 2021, when I first decided to go “No Contact” and leave my abuser of nearly five years, I felt the pain of the experience weighing me down. I needed a creative project to cleanse and reset my heart and mind, but I didn’t know where to start.
One day I walked into a craft store and happened to see a shelf of objects I had never seen there before. It was a display of miniatures – not pieces of a train set – but tiny sets of modern furniture and accessories for a dollhouse. I felt immediately drawn to the display, so I grabbed a cart and threw in as much as it could carry. I even found a 6-room empty dollhouse, an arrangement of MDF boards that I could puzzle piece together and later paint or cover with wallpaper and decorate as needed.
When I got home, I immediately sprang into action. The next few weeks, I stayed up late every night decorating my miniature dollhouse. I found inspiration from YouTubers talking about DIY projects, urban bungalow designs, and Scandinavian-inspired interiors.
I returned to the craft store several more times to gather more resources until my wallet burned from exhaustion, as did my body.
By May, my miniature modern dollhouse was almost complete. And I knew just the perfect person to give it to – my dear friend’s 6-year-old daughter.
So I found myself at the store one evening looking for miniature dolls who could live in this handmade dollhouse. I found several that could work and scooped them up.
Then I piecemealed together the final touches. I found peel-and-stick squares to work as the wallpaper and flooring for the dollhouse; macrame earrings to serve as art hangings on the walls; a small macrame plant hanger and a tiny pillow to function as a ‘70s-inspired swinging egg chair (so trendy); a jewelry box that resembled an antique trunk; textured coasters as rugs; essential oil vials to hold dried flowers; fairy lights and LED votives to work as lighting; face masks from the pandemic to serve as dollhouse bedding; and dismantled necklace charms of animals, globes, binoculars, tiny books, and gemstones to work as bookshelf décor.
I decided, however, to leave the exterior walls of the dollhouse unfinished, so my friend and his daughter could one day paint it and finish it together.
When I finally had the opportunity to give my friend’s daughter the dollhouse, they were both as delighted as I had been in creating it. I had instilled in them my version of a perfect world – where little girls can safely dare to dream, and where fathers can share in that creation.