After high school I attended the Pasadena Playhouse, College of Theatre Arts. My goal, in those head-in-the-clouds days, was to become a famous Broadway set designer and although I worked in the industry for several years after leaving college, the theatre was not to be my life’s calling. I never regretted any of the time spent pursuing this avocation, however, as lessons learned around theatre arts proved useful to me in many of my later pursuits.
For me, the best part of designing sets was making the models that were presented to the directors for design approval. I seemed to have a natural ability to create models that stood out both in design and detail. A design for Ibsen’s play “The Master Builder” turned out to be a turning point in my life, although at the time, I never realized it. The play is the story of a successful architect who claws his way to the top of his profession at the price of happiness and personal relationships. The play is filled with symbolism and I wanted my set to reflect the same type of symbolism as Ibsen’s words. To that end, I created an entire set that looked like a newly framed house, without its wall coverings, symbolic of a person exposed to the world. The open partition walls could be moved and reassembled between acts to create three unique settings for each act. As striking as that set turned out to be, the model was even more impressive. Creating that model was the first time I had ever used balsa wood and had built things exactly to scale and with the detail and realism that an open framed house required. I saved that model for many years until it finally was damaged in a move, but that model represented the moment I became hooked on building scale miniature scenes.
In later life and in other occupations, I found that a model could speak volumes about what I envisioned and they could say it far better than my words. Whenever I had an important project idea to present, a model was always somehow part of the presentation. Without knowing it, I had turned into a miniaturist, and I had even learned about scale, partly through trail and error, and partly because of what law enforcement calls: j.d.l.r. (that is, things “just don’t look right”).
Throughout my working life I played at making miniatures in some form or another as a relaxing pastime. During this period I had no idea that there were people who actually pursued this as a hobby, or that there were clubs of adults engaged in this hobby. There were a couple of dollhouse and miniature shops I my hometown, but I always assumed they catered to Moms and doting Grandmas who crafted dollhouses just for their daughters and granddaughters. I was happy they did though, because it gave me an outlet to find the tiny items I often needed, but I always felt a bit out of place in these stores. I sometimes felt the shopkeepers were keeping an eye on me like I was casing the joint for a heist later on!
There was nothing unusual about the summer of 1998. Two years earlier a severe back injury and subsequent failed surgery had forced me into an early retirement. It was in late July that I finally was beginning to move about more freely, so I decided to spend a day at our County Fair. Little did I know that I was about to have a miniature epiphany…
8 months ago