Federal room miniature setup

The Small Things Are a Big Deal for the Louisville Miniature Club

Did you have a dollhouse when you were little? Remember the intricate pieces of a tiny old-fashioned kitchen, positioning each doll in the living room, or preparing the “little ones” for bed?

Perhaps dad or grandpa hand-crafted some of the little wooden furniture or mom sewed clothing for the dolls. It was a world of imagination and a product that kept children engaged for hours.

Since 1973, the Louisville Miniature Club (LMC) has brought a passion for all things miniature to the community with that same magic and imagination from youth.

After submitting two miniature scenes for a national doll show and winning two blue ribbons, Founder Janette Hutchison began posting signs inside grocery stores and businesses in Louisville looking for interested collectors in the community.

The first meeting of the LMC brought together seven people who also loved creating, collecting and sharing their passion.

At the time, collecting miniatures was in the top-three hobbies in the country. Popularity has waned over the decades, but today it’s experiencing a resurgence across the globe.

Miniature doll house
Miniature doll house created by the Louisville Miniature Club

Chances are, you’ve seen the LMC before. Today the club consists of approximately 30 members and they are very active in the community. They attend school functions, the State Fair and Girl Scout activities. Since 2014 they’ve filled both display cases at the Bon Air branch of the Louisville Free Public Library with miniatures for an annual exhibit.

Nancye Johnson joined the LMC in 2008 and has served as club president since 2009. In addition, she serves on the board of the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts (N.A.M.E.), headquartered in Carmel, Indiana.

“I’ve always loved dollhouses,” Johnson said. “As a kid I had a heavy cardboard house and one made of tin too. There’s a wide variety from kid-friendly to really high-end collectable dollhouses. I started out with a nice house and furniture, but at this point I’m running out of room and just looking for those one-of-a-kind pieces.”

What’s the attraction to miniatures?

Some members enjoy collecting the tiny figures, others enjoy making them, and there’s also the social aspect of joining together with like-minded collectors and makers for projects, group activities and sharing with the community.

As with most collector items, the quality and price varies, but in miniatures, size varies as well, based on the collector’s preference. Miniatures come in 1 inch, half scale, quarter scale, and micro mini, making no two collections identical.

Johnson described a miniature Dutch kitchen she created, which underscores the intricate detail involved.

“I have a piece that is 2 inches by 2 inches, and the furniture and kitchenware in the kitchen are made of paper because they are so tiny,” Johnson said. “You need good lighting and a magnifying glass to catch all of the detail in that piece.”

Some pieces are made of paper while others are carved from wood, with the club seeing pieces created with 3D printing and laser cutting.

Miniature tea room setting
Miniature tea room setting

Some collectors prefer holiday decorative pieces, creating Christmas-themed displays, while others go with a specific character or era.

Take the YouTube sensation Ara Bentley, for instance, and her creation of a three-story “Addams Family” home. After nearly 10 years Bentley unveiled her 16-room mansion, complete with authentic miniature characters and room decor, and received worldwide recognition and appreciation for her masterpiece.

N.A.M.E. serves as a one-stop shop for event promotion and help with finding local clubs. Memberships are available, even a six-magazine subscription for enthusiasts to keep up on trends, news and more.

The world is watching, with interest shared across the globe and groups coming from overseas to attend vendor shows in Chicago, St. Louis or Indianapolis to name a few.

“We have our own show in October each year,” Johnson said. “We bring in vendors from all over and have more than 200 people walk through, which is a pretty good crowd.”

Miniature museums are once again becoming popular and visitors flock to display locations across the country. Kentucky is home to The Great American Dollhouse Museum in Danville and the Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection in Maysville.

Johnson said whether visiting a museum or vendor show, once or repeatedly, each experience allows the viewer to discover something new or something they had not noticed before, and that’s one reason so many continue to come back.

The LMC meets at 2 p.m. on the first and third Sunday of each month. Gatherings consist of a short business meeting, discussion of upcoming events and other needs, and then work on their current project, as well as gleaning information and advice from fellow club members and continuing to build their collections.

Miniature wild west sheriff's office
Miniature wild west sheriff’s office

It takes different passions and skill sets for the club members to be as active as they are. Some enjoy creating or painting the pieces, and others like to do the needlework necessary for clothing and other fabrics in the miniature display. Learning a new technique from a club member or guest speaker helps to up their game and improve upon current and future projects.

“The club is like my second family,” Johnson said. “We go on retreats and bring extra projects to work on. It’s fun to do things with people who love what you do.”

It’s fun for the individual, but even more importantly, Johnson said the club mission is to share miniatures as often as possible.

“At the State Fair we always have a Make Your Own Miniature project,” Johnson said. “We’ve made miniature corn dogs, cotton candy, an ear of corn, etcetera, and kids and adults really enjoy it. For the 50th anniversary celebration of the local Girl Scouts, we’ll be making a Christmas tree or winter scene in a cigar box. Once we attended a middle school math class to learn about scale.”

They keep up on recent trends and are constantly looking for new ways to entice young people to get involved. For example, a new miniature trend includes scenes inside a teacup and just may appear at an LMC event in the future.

Not only is it important to share the passion with others, but it’s also a skill and hobby Johnson hopes to pass on to a younger generation, particularly her six grandchildren. Her late husband built dollhouses for each of the three granddaughters and she imagines her collection will eventually be passed on to them. Time will tell, but one of them might catch the bug that Johnson has so enjoyed.

“It’s a passion of mine,” she said. “When you retire, it’s a great way to keep your mind going and it keeps me busy. I love to go to the shows and the museums. They are just fascinating.”

The LMC members are always looking for new members to join, and invite residents from Louisville and surrounding areas to stop in for a meeting. Dues for the Louisville club are $24 annually, and include a T-shirt and name tag if a visitor wishes to join. The LMC is also affiliated with the national N.A.M.E. club, with access to additional events and information.

For more details on events and an LMC meeting schedule, visit thelouisvilleminiatureclub.org.

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