Ten Thousand Details

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As the pieces come together, the count goes up and up. So many tiny little bits go into making the whole project.

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It’s beginning to look like a house, with little jobs here and there that nag at my sense of completion. I’d love to be able to work 18 hours a day on it right now!

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Cabinets to hang, counter tops to fabricate.

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It’s coming together, but has yet to have the “lived-in'”look added. More particularly for this project, the evidence of the crime is coming soon.

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The last pieces of door trim and baseboard went in tonight. I tried to count. I think there’s about 140 individually cut-and-fit pieces of trim.

So, where does the motivation to build in miniature come from? Why make models of things?

The first time I saw dollhouse miniatures was in a shop in Alexandria, Virginia in the 1970s. I was amazed at the detail. I built a kit for my younger sister when I was in high school. The kit was inexpensive and the quality wasn’t the highest, but I remember being totally involved in the construction and having such a sense of accomplishment when it was done. Around this time, I happened to visit the Smithsonian when a set of architectural models that were made for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in the early 1500s. By Michelangelo. Kind of heavy stuff, both literally and figuratively. They were massive and filled entire halls in the museum. I can’t even begin to imagine how much time it took to construct. Each piece, hand cut. Every structural element that has held the basilica up since the 16th century was made so Michelangelo could build the ultimate monument to Christianity.

I dabbled in miniatures through the ’80s and picked it up again in the early parts of the ’00s. I built a model of a two-room schoolhouse and spent a few hundred hours on a train set. The limitations of scale became the only hurdle. A person can do plenty in the macro world when your scale is 1:140. It’s hard to get realistic detail at that scale, though.

Enter an off-handed conversation with the amazing Lady Delaney. Who’d have thought the world held such wonderfully odd people? We began to talk about the morbid fun it would be to model tragic scenes. The first morbid scene I tried to assemble was with a family of bears and a car full of…bear food. It didn’t progress far because of scale. At 1:140, the bears are only about 1/4″ tall. The car is only about an inch and a quarter. The idea sat there in the back of my little brain for about two years until I saw a story about Frances Glessner Lee. That’s the sort of experience that gets your creative flow going. The more I’ve read about her work, the more exciting it is. Building my first Nutshell has been incredible, frustrating, hugely focusing. And time consuming. It’s April. I’ve been working on this since September.

In my world view, this project began in the early 1500s. Michelangelo to Mrs. Lee to Lady Delaney. I’m in pretty rare air here.

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