Category Archives: The Village

Miniatures

Miniatures

I spend hours every Christmas putting together a miniature village as part of our holiday decorations.  I enjoy my village and I imagine my involvement in the lives of the tiny people in the streets and behind the windows of their houses.  The village can be anything I want it to be, and it does not change unless I change it.

Miniature figures represent reality as images of people, buildings, landscapes, machines, tools, and other living or nonliving things.  They allow the creation of a simulated reality that can be manipulated, controlled and viewed in its entirety.  They can simulate proposed alternatives and “what if” situations, or they can provide an environment where fantasies can be played out in a world where rules are followed and people behave as expected.

Miniatures have been used for various purposes for thousands of years.  Miniature soldiers were found in the tombs of the Pharaohs. Paintings in miniature were popular among the Persians about the 13th century and continued until the mid 1800s when the practice almost died out as photography was developed.  Those artists tended to abandon miniature painting for photography.

The earliest recorded doll house was made for Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, between 1550 and 1579. It was a copy of his own residence and became known as his “baby house.”  Charles Dickens referred to a doll houses in Cricket on the Hearth, 1845.  Doll houses increased in popularity in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries.  The furniture and interiors of the houses reflected the lifestyles of their owners, and many were made purely as collectors’ pieces with contents made by craftsmen.

Brightly painted toys carved from wood were often sold by peddlers and street traders in the early 19th century.  In the late 19th century, these toys were replaced by toys stamped out of tinplate.  Many of these toys were clockwork and were developed as a sideline of watchmaking. In the 1930s brightly painted diecast cars were introduced in Britain, and that was taken to a new level in 1961with Mattel’s Hot Wheels cars which had low friction wheels that could send a car over a further distance with a single push.

One of the largest markets for miniatures is the movie industry.  The fierce Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park was actually about 18 inches long.  The Hogwarts castle in the Harry Potter series is only about 12 feet high.  In “Back to the Future III” when the train was pushing the Delorean time machine along  the track, that train and Delorean were actually much smaller models. Those sexy helicopter crashes that are so popular in movies involve small models, usually no more that 12 inches long.  In these scenes, the speed of the film is slowed to make the movement look realistic.  This is most noticeable in shots of ships on ocean waves.  A small model ship floating on waves looks silly in real time.

Most collectors of miniatures are adults, but children are raised on toys.  Toys help children develop their social and cognitive skills and help them identify their roles in society.  There are a lot of studies to determine why boys like cars and guns and girls like dolls.  Some people think it is the parents who create the preferences and some think it is hormonal.  Extreme gender-oriented toys may have a negative effect on a child’s development.  The Barbie Doll tends to make girls think negatively about their own bodies.  Guns tend to make boys more aggressive.  Some studies show that the kind of toys a child plays with has an effect on the child’s intellectual development.

 

Parents of grown children should look in their storage boxes. The original Barbie Doll is worth now about $8,000.  An original 1933 edition of Monopoly will bring $146,000.  A boxy sea-green Matchbox sedan, the 1966 Opel Diplomat, will bring $9,000.

How many battles have been planned and recreated with miniature soldiers, tanks, guns, etc?  How many shopping malls and office buildings have been created in miniature before actual construction has begun?

Whatever the motivation,  miniature models, toys, and Christmas villages offer whatever anyone wants from it.  They offer a controlled environment at a  reasonable cost.  They also offer hours and hours of fun.

 

 

 

 

The Village

The Village

The village appears to be centered around a central park with an abundance of trees surrounded by stately mansions and community buildings reminiscent of Savannah, Georgia.  The time seems to be near the beginning of the twentieth century, before automobiles, but after electric lights.  The time of day must be dusk since lights are visible behind windows, but it is not really dark.  The liveliness of activity indicates that it is not yet time for sleeping.

A steam locomotive leading a passenger and freight cars is stationed on the tracks outside a depot near a large hotel.  Prosperity seems evident since the homes are mostly large, two-story structures abounding with gingerbread, verandas, picket fences, and brick walkways.  Just this year, the town has increased by 15 more buildings—homes, stores, and offices. In addition to the mansions, you see a town hall, church, school, fire station, and several small shops with shoppers on the sidewalks carrying packages wrapped as gifts.

Within the park in the center of the town is a frozen pond with ice skaters dancing in pairs and as singles to music from a band playing from beneath a covered bandstand.  Brilliantly decorated Christmas trees stand tall, as tall as the houses, on either end of the park. There are dogs playing and birds singing, and there is even an organ grinder with a monkey on a leash holding a cup for donations.  A man is visible on an arched bridge over a stream holding a child watching the skaters.  Carolers bring a feeling of warmth, friendliness, community, and peace in the small village.  Near the edge of town is a dance hall with a different kind of music and livelier people.  Just outside the town is another iced-over pond with more skaters frolicking; there is a small hill with sleigh riders enjoying the winter’s covering of soft white snow.

One can only imagine the stories behind the lives of these people.  Are they all as happy as they appear? What is the basis of their economy?  The homes have families with all the struggles of living and raising children.   Some may be enjoying the happiness of seeing their children grown and with children of their own—happy and successful.  However, maybe some homes have children who have not been heard of for years.  What sorrow must be behind those doors.  What can you tell from your view of this village?

The stories within the village are generated in the hearts and minds of the viewers.  These stories will be different for each viewer; the village scene is a canvas on which each viewer can paint his/her own stories.  The names of the people and their level of happiness will change from one viewer to another.  What advice would you give these people?  Is anything real in this village?  Only as real as the thoughts in your head or the yearnings in your heart.

This village is alive and active from mid-November to mid-January.  In the spring, the ice does not melt. The rest of the year the village is in boxes in the loft in my garage.  It is my ceramic Christmas village.

It all started when, at a family gathering, I mentioned I once had a Christmas village as part of the Christmas decorations earlier in my life.  My sister-in-law offered her village.  She was more into crafts than villages, but years earlier she had painted and glazed some village items in a ceramics class.  She had also purchased a small train set and a skating rink with the idea of building a village, but everything had remained in boxes for many years.  She said  I could have them if I wanted.

I set them up that next Christmas.  The skating rink mechanism was about two inches high to allow for the magnetic mechanism that made the skaters skate and the music play.  The train track was not really enough and I did not like the skating rink that high.  It needed a lot more work.

The next year I cut a hole in a large 4′ x 8′ piece of plywood for the skating rink with a frame underneath to support it.  Now the rink was down where it belonged.  I bought more H.O. scale railroad track to go around the entire sheet of plywood, and I took great care to lay it out as evenly as I could.  I painted the top of the board white, but that was not enough.  I needed a three dimensional surface to simulate snow, so I ventured into a craft store to find just the right material.  One of the most difficult tasks was going into the craft store.  I associated craft stores with scrapbooking.  The first time I went into one, I felt similar to how I felt when, in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, I walked by mistake into a crowded women’s restroom.  I felt like I didn’t belong.

All year long, I look for new additions to my village, and with each addition, I think of more stories.  Each new character has meaning to me with a life of ups and downs like mine.  I picture myself in every home, office or shop, and I visualize what may be happening inside.   I love the stories that come to mind.  I enjoy finding new buildings and accessories, and my wife loves the dance hall.  It looks right, but it plays “Jingle Bell Rock,” making it not true to the period.

At Thanksgiving, I move the living room furniture to make way for the village.  I bring in the main board from the garage, clear off the other tables, and spend many hours setting up the village.

The grandkids have fun with the village.  They entertain themselves for hours creating their stories by moving the pieces around, running the train, peeking in the windows of the houses, and dancing to “Jingle Bell Rock.” It is interesting to find where things have been moved after they are through,  and I can only imagine what stories they created.  Their joy alone makes it all worthwhile.

My daughter-in-law just gave me nine new buildings with dozens of people, trees and other accessories.  I purchased five more buildings myself, along with more people, signs, etc.  Now I am up to about 40 buildings and hundreds of people, animals, and countless trees.  The village has expanded to four tables, and now I have the problem of connecting the train to the other parts of the village, which is a new pre-occupation and challenge.