Wednesday, September 12, 2001
RICKREALL -- Betty Gill often wishes she was a teeny tiny woman.
She makes dollhouses. Well, "dollhouse" is not the right term.
"These are not dollhouses. They're not to play with. These are miniatures."
Still, there are moments.
Gill decorates her miniatures with a Victorian opulence that would turn Lady Astor's head. In her more wistful moments, she imagines living in her own creations.
The size difference is really the only obstacle.
Gill's tiny homes (some of which are on temporary loan to the Polk County Museum) are ready for any six-inch person who cares to take up residence.
Everything is furnished -- right down to the little newspapers and coffee cups. There is even electricity. Heck, on one structure, there's even an outside meter to monitor the electricity.
Not to worry. The electric bills aren't very high.
However, privacy is a big issue. At least one of the walls in each of the structures is transparent. Like the set of a TV sitcom.
It's hard to hide from the prying eyes of giant neighbors.
Everything Gill builds is to scale -- one inch to the foot. Even the thickness of the glass in the windows is to scale.
For a long time, the buildings were vacant. Miniature people, at least ones that look half way convincing, are harder to come by than miniature tea cozies.
The little people looked awkward, their clothes ill-fitting. Their arms stuck out like 5-year-olds bundled up for winter.
That was back when all would-be Geppettos had to work with was wood and plastic. Enter the miracle of resin.
A wonderfully malleable substance, resin allows creators to make models more lifelike and expressive.
Miniature people are about the only thing Gill buys ready-made. "I try not to buy anything I can make myself," she said.
An 85-year-old friend of hers crochets tiny blankets with sewing thread. "You learn to think small," she said.
Gill made the rhododendrons outside a miniature Victorian dress shop out of statice.
She obviously can't make everything. Even then, she prefers to avoid mass-produced miniatures. There are a lot of them. Miniatures are such a popular hobby, there is catalog after catalog of tiny furnishings.
"I like things people have made rather than just the regular stuff."
Gill is a firm believer in recycling. She turned an old Nabisco can into a tiny kitchen with pies cooling in the window.
A small general store was once a cheese box. "That's my grandson with his hand in the cookie jar," she said, pointing to the scene inside.
Gill has been collecting and creating miniatures for 25 years. She used to collect antiques, but living in an apartment in Virginia, space became a problem.
Miniatures provided an obvious solution. "I was hooked immediately," she said.
The solution didn't last forever. Her Dallas home is already packed with smaller buildings.
One of the buildings is an antique shop. That opened up all sorts of possibilities. "You can put anything in an antique shop."
The detailing on the outside of the shop is particularly meticulous.
White paint on the side of the building is cracking. A little ladder leans up against the front of the building next to a small can of paint.
Some of the clean white paint shows the beginning of a fresh paint job. The little people obviously ran out of material before they could finish.
"There's a little whimsy involved," Gill said.
Although her collection includes a rustic log cabin, Gill admits a certain bias for Victorian shops and dwellings.
"I love Victorian. It's kind of romantic. I also like the country style and, of course, I'm passionate about Santa Claus."
A Victorian miniature still requires a lot of thematic choices, Gill said. Is it a Victorian house being lived in in 1850 or a Victorian house being lived in today?
Gill rather likes making things look a little older.
"I can't get rid of my own wrinkles but I can put wrinkles on other things."
A portion of Gill's collection is on loan to the museum through September. It's located at a rotating display area on the second floor.
At the end of the month, it'll be replaced by a display from the Independence State Airport.
Gill has no idea how many hours she's devoted to her passion for miniatures. "I only work a few hours whenever I can," she said.
She doesn't add up the hours. Or the money. The expense is something she'd rather not think about, she said.
"I'd probably have a heart attack if I added up all the money I've spent. I probably could have bought a new house."