Miniatures Museum Shows Off Complex Craft Of Making Tiny Things

Oct 26, 2017

From dollhouses to bite-size toy soldiers, people have long had a fascination with tiny things. According to the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts, the tiny toys were used to teach boys war strategy and teach girls how to manage a household. Archeologists have even found miniatures in ancient Egyptian tombs. They were representations of what the person enjoyed in life.

WMUK visited the Midwest Miniatures Museum on the grounds of the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners. 

“You begin to look at the world a little differently when you’re a miniaturist. You don’t see a little butter tub, you see something that could be a copper pot. And with paint, with reshaping, maybe using staples for the handles, there can be a zero cost kind of copper pot," says Ina Whitney, president of the museum’s board.

A miniaturist is someone who makes, collects, or just likes miniatures. Whitney says most of the miniatures in the museum are skillfully made using the same techniques used for a regular size object.

The museum, founded by local collector Mary Francis Light, has a lot of miniature houses and what Whitney calls “fantasy rooms.”

“This one is the bathroom to end all bathrooms. You have the huge marble tub, marble pillars, dressing table, marble sink, and a kind of a glamorous setting outside the window. So, that person’s probably got a standard 6 x 8 bathroom at home,” says Whitney.

Some of the miniatures are more historical. The museum has a recreation of the yellow house in Arles, France, where artists Van Gough and Gauguin were roommates for a time.

The museum’s founder also commissioned six pieces to honor Kalamazoo’s medical industries. Whitney says all of the science in these works is accurate to the 1900s.

“As a reminder of how far medicine has come, the only thing that is particularly familiar is the eye charts,” says Whitney.

Whitney says recent inventions have radically changed things for miniaturists. She says those tiny lights in doll houses often go out, but new LEDs last longer and burn cooler. The museum also has a 3-D printer where visitors can create their own miniatures.

“The most recent round that we had was a person who was restoring a vintage dollhouse and a chair leg and some pieces of molding replicated - and so we were very able to do that,” she says.

But for some, miniatures are more than just a hobby. Wendy Habermehl from Milwaukee visited the museum. She says when she was home sick as a kid, her mother let her play with a very special set of miniatures.

“You had to be in bed, you had to be gentle with them. You had to be sick in order to even touch these toys - and that’s how they survived all the way from being made in Germany and brought over with the family,” says Habermehl. 

Habermehl says now those toys are displayed on her wall.

“Every time I go look at those I think of my childhood, I think of my mother, I think of my family heritage," she says. "I think of all the work that went into it and aspire to kind of do those things including making a doll house for my own daughter.”

Habermehl says her daughter is now 34 and that dollhouse still isn’t done, but she says she's enjoyed the process. 

“And I say Rachel I can’t hold on to these things forever, what about this dollhouse? She says absolutely not!” says Habermehl.

The Midwest Miniatures Museum will be open until the last weekend in November when it closes for the season. After this Halloween, the museum will only be open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.