I did not grow up with an artistic education. I was born in the small town of Parral, in Chihuahua, northern Mexico, and as a child my mind was drawn more to math and science. I graduated as a chemical engineer in college, then got married and moved to the United States in 1992 when my husband took a job in Michigan. I didn’t have a work visa at the time, but my son, David, and my twin daughters, Nora and Lily, kept me busy.
I loved creating things for them. Made great Halloween and party costumes – turned the twins into flowers for a school spring parade.
When I decorated the house for the holidays, our centerpiece was a Christmas village made of miniature houses. It started out as two snowy houses sitting on a side table, but over the years it has grown. Children were looking for miniatures in garage sales. Often they were broken and I would restore them. Eventually, each Christmas, the hallway of our house turned into a complex village of little houses and festive characters.
At a yard sale, when Nora was 12, she saw an old wooden dollhouse. She had always wanted one of the elaborate models she saw in the movies, but they were too expensive. This one was $20, with some Victorian furniture, so we bought it. For a month, we worked there together on weekends. I took out the old carpets and floral wallpapers, and created small accessories. I made pillows, sewn by hand, and small books printed on paper, cut out and bound.
Nora loved this dollhouse, but she outgrew it and our interest in miniatures faded. Around 2010 we moved to Texas and I got a master’s degree in math and then taught college kids. I found intersections between what I was teaching and my work on the dollhouse – the scale, the geometry.
Five years ago, while on a shopping trip with Nora, now in grad school, we came across a “build your own” dollhouse kit and bought it as a summer project. She dug up her old accessories and I spent afternoons making miniatures of her in the garage. I watched YouTube tutorials and collected household items: plastic tags from new clothes became bottle dispensers, milk bottle caps turned into plates, and matchboxes turned into drawers. I worked with paint, a knife and watercolor brushes.
During confinement, we watched television programs as a family. Nora liked Friends and asked me to do Monica’s kitchen. I bought some paint, glue, and polymer clay, and worked on it for two weeks, making the purple door, the fridge, the cups, pots and pans, the table and chairs, and even Joey’s Thanksgiving turkey.
Lily asked me to try out a set of Schitt’s Creek comedy, so I did the Rose Apothecarythe village shop: there was a wooden table, wooden floors and white shelves, neatly lined with small baskets and jars. My son decided others should see them and created an Instagram account, Big makes small. Soon another thumbnail account shared a cookie baking table I had made, and hundreds of people started to like my work. We got messages asking to buy them, so Nora created a account on Etsy.
We discovered a world of miniaturists and social media enthusiasts. I’ve seen recreations of Michelangelo’s art and one account posts tiny edible foods, cooked in a working oven.
I recreated sets of Harry Potter and i love lucy. The ones from the grocery store are popular: I made one the size of a palm shopping cart, full of American brands like Ice Breakers mints and Hershey’s. So are the charcuterie boards – I’ve sold over 200 pea-sized cheese and ham platters.
I don’t care about money. When someone says, “That’s amazing,” that’s my reward. I am happy to be part of this creative community.
We’re so used to seeing things enlarged – towering skyscrapers and huge billboards are considered impressive – that when something is reduced, it generates a different feeling. People are drawn to something so small, yet perfectly complete. Sometimes it reminds them of their own childhood. Maybe they wanted a dollhouse, like my daughter. Or maybe it brings them to a place of comfort, like the set of their favorite TV show. It’s a wonderful feeling to create this.
As told to Deborah Linton
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