James Opher loves to breathe new life into ancient treasures linked to the world of miniatures, and his creativity is fully on display in his all-new My Little Town – Rehab Showplace Dollhouse and Miniatures in Mechanicsville.
Opher’s interest in miniatures dates back to his childhood, when he started working with model cars. “I started saving money for die-cast car models,” he says. “I wanted a place to park the cars, so I made one out of cardboard boxes and Popsicle sticks, things I had at home.”
As a child, he made small models of houses and garages. This skill evolved into larger models of houses and garages and eventually miniature dollhouses.
Opher, an actor who retired as assistant director of cultural arts for the City of Richmond Parks and Recreation Department, enjoys working with discarded or abandoned works of art, refurbishing them to give them their original shine or make them “better than the original, give them a chance to shine again,” he says, noting that his collection of miniatures includes Monticello and the Bell Tower of the Carillon in Byrd Park. “Many miniatures have passed through three generations of a family.”
Twenty percent of the Showplace items are Opher originals, and the rest are refurbished miniatures. “Some of the things I refurbished were vendor samples,” he says. “They used to make a model of a house so that buyers could see what their house would look like.”
The miniatures are divided into sections: Mansion Way, Old Town, and Doll House Row. Each is accompanied by information about the part.
Houses are built on a scale – one inch, half an inch, or a quarter of an inch for each foot of an actual house. None of the houses on display are for sale, but Opher would eventually like to sell some of his artifacts, organize workshops, and have a consignment area. Consultations are available for those who wish to hire Opher to refurbish their old miniatures or dollhouses.
Currently, people can come to learn about scale modeling and also buy “items related to miniature houses, like furniture, building materials and magazines,” he says, adding that the Showplace is open. Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from morning to 6 p.m.
Opher likes to see a project from start to finish. He is also proud to hear someone who watches one of his models recall or comment on their work.
“It’s gratifying to see everyone enjoying it,” he says. ” It’s an art. A lot of people like it, but they don’t know they like it until they see it.