Magical Miniatures

kitchen_exteriorRecognize this famous abode? No? Perhaps the blue car parked on the roof will jog your memory. I also hear there are some pesky gnomes in the garden. Yes, this is an elaborate and fully decorated dollhouse of the Weasley’s Burrow!

exterior_open_secondAnd near the attic? The room of a certain Quidditch crazy Hogwarts student.

ron1This magical miniature was created by Sally Wallace, a retired medical professional. Initially, she did miniatures as a hobby, but 35 years ago, Sally got serious. Very serious.

greenhouse1Behold this enormous, beautiful, intricate, and astounding Hogwarts. It’s full of classrooms, offices, a common room, a dining hall, a library, a rotating Room of Requirement, and more! The rooms are filled with amazing details. Fawkes the phoenix perches in Dumbledore’s office, Winky works in the kitchen, Moaning Myrtle haunts the bathroom, the Whomping Willow stuns a few owls, and mandrakes await re-potting in the greenhouse.

greenhouse3In addition to the Burrow and Hogwarts, Sally has created the Ministry of Magic, Ollivanders, Honeydukes, Hagrid’s hut, and a separate miniature of Hogwarts’ stairs (it consists of 20 staircases, including several that move).

stairsOnce I picked my jaw off the floor, I got in touch with Sally (who lives in Des Moines, Iowa) to learn more about how she works her miniature magic.

These structures are incredibly beautiful and intricate. When did you first encounter the world of Harry Potter, and what inspired you to embark on replicating it in miniature?

My brother was the Chaplain at the boys school at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. He kept telling me to read Harry Potter…I kept thinking “Right…he works with kids, now why would I want to do that?”

Then my own priest, an academic with a strong liturgical theological background told me to ready the series…so I did…50 pages into book 1, I was hooked! No doubt the series is for children, but it’s monumentally a series for adults. It’s about doing the right thing, the magic in life, the strength of fellowship…never mind that I love Dumbledore!

But it took a few years for the castle to emerge. I was hunting for a project and a friend suggested the castle. I thought it couldn’t be done, but then…you see the results.

greenman

Exterior detail of Hogwarts’ greenhouse

Do you collaborate with anyone while building these structures and designing the interiors?

Rik Pierce did a lot of structural work on all the Harry Potter pieces except the small roomboxes and the stairs. I did the interiors. First in my head, then on paper, then of course in “real.” I buy, create, or do a mix of many of the interior pieces. There are fine artisans in the miniature world who create furniture, dolls, etc. I plan it and then utilize their help or I find things at miniature shows.

Are the houses, boxes, and roomboxes modified kits? Original structures? A mixture of the two?

All of the Harry Potter creations are one of a kind, no kits. The castle shell was created by Rik Pierce who had all the skill and right equipment to do it. The exterior of many of the structures is a product called PaperClay. I took classes (and have since taught classes) in PaperClay.

Do you create your Harry Potter houses from descriptions in the books? Or do you also take visual cues from the movies?

Both. The Burrow really came from a movie shot of it (on the outside). The inside was all mine. The castle from the books, the shops from my head, the moving stairs from my head. Hagrid’s hut from both. Ministry of Magic from my head.

phonebooth

The visitor’s entrance to the Ministry of Magic.

What sort of materials do you work with to create exteriors? I mean Hogwarts. Wow. The stones!  The tiled roof! The Gothic doorways!

Ah…the magic of PaperClay. Exteriors are all PaperClay, a product you roll with a rolling pin, glue on and then sculpt. You paint and faux paint after it is dry. Just takes lots of practice. But it ends up light, repairable and creates a fabulous effect! Even the roof is PaperClay over various foam boards. Now, just so you know, many of my structures are wood and gilded, but the ones we are talking about are not! Everything is lighted and works, by the way. That is true of all the structures. The Ministry of Magic has a planetary room that is rotating, an infinity room, and in the time room a movie of the egg hatching.

fountain

Illuminated Fountain of Magical Brethren at the Ministry of Magic

I can imagine it takes a long time to build a house or box. How long, for example, did it take to create the Weasley’s Burrow?

The Burrow was a joint effort between Rik Pierce and me. The exterior took about 2 years. The interior about another year. The castle of course took several years. The box with the movable stairs took about a year. I had a carpenter create the exterior. The “room” is actually a box which slides into the wooden frame. The Ministry of Magic is framed in wood (by my carpenter), but each room is actually a small, light, roombox. Each roombox was relatively easy to create. The details took a long time!

How did you get the rubber gloves to stand up by themselves in the Weasley’s kitchen sink? Is that hot glue?

No. Acrylic again! The acrylic is turned so it looks like water. The illusion hides the fact that the gloves are held up with dried acrylic. That took a little longer and several attempts. Glad you noticed it!

kitchen-view-6

Detail of magical dishwasher in Burrow kitchen

How much of the furniture and accessories did you have to fabricate yourself?

Hum…different for every piece. For example, I bought all the furniture in Snape’s dungeon, but I created all of the detail pieces – filled caldrons, test tubes, etc. For the moving staircase, I bought the dolls and desks but created all of the clutter, mess, fountains, etc. I created everything in the library and bought a few filler books.

library

The library at Hogwarts

Tell us a little about fabricating a filled caldron, a potions tube, or wizard clutter!

Excellent question – I am asked those things all the time. That is what I do. I see it in my head and it becomes life. I see it as how I live (although I have no mess at home). I find “stuff” or make “stuff” – using clay or other things and then use apoxy to fill it.

Best I give you an example. I bought a lot of potions, sundries and  “herbs” at a show. I put 4 caldrons in front of me and figured out what I would like. I created an epoxy, poured it into the caldron, and then waited til it hardened slightly and added stuff so it would float. For the brain tank in the Ministry, I had an acrylic tank made to my liking, created brains and had a friend create brains. Then I poked a hole in the brain, inserted a fishing line and used a drop of super glue to hold them, attached them to a board  and placed them hanging down in the tank. I poured acrylic in to the tank. When it was all said and done, no “wires.” Just brains floating at different heights.

Much of what I stack on tables I buy from people who make them better than I can make them. By now I have a whole list of resources who are all as crazy as me! Then they come together in life somehow!

potions

Dumbledore at work

Do you also design the dolls?

No. There are some fabulous doll makers who are really artists. Philip Beglan, who has been a friend for years, moved on to animation and created Wallace and Grommet – but he still makes a few dolls (for me). I have made dolls but my skills are poor and there is an entire doll maker’s room at the International Show!

ghost

A school ghost haunts the stairs

What’s the most difficult thing about working with miniatures?

Making the plan.

If you had to live in one of the rooms of your Harry Potter miniatures, which room would you pick?

Dumbledore’s office! I love the stuff and the pensive and the orreries and the magic!

Are you planning to create any more Harry Potter miniatures? Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop could be mighty fun…or ooo! Gringotts!

Dana, I have the interior of Gringotts in a roombox. Here’s a picture. Right now I am creating a Russian fantasy, so when that is done, I may look at smaller Diagon Alley shops…

gringottsYou won’t be surprised to learn that Sally’s work has been featured in miniaturist publications, including several in Europe. You can see pictures of her work (including some equally amazing non-Harry Potter items) at her website, Magical Miniatures.

Just for the record, if I had to pick a room to live in, I’m totally going for Hagrid’s hut. Stoat sandwiches and all!

hut-exterior-1024x663hut-interior3


All images used with permission of the artist.

If you’re interested in all things Potter, definitely check out this post on Cotsen’s curatorial blog. At the very least, jump over to see the early versions of the book from our special collections vault! 

Shadow Play

shadow playWe made these fantastic shadow puppets as part of To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-8. We had just finished reading The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West (Dial, 2010).

Olive Dunwoody and her parents have just moved into an old house. And the house doesn’t like it. The house’s previous owner, Mrs. McMartin, was involved in witchcraft, and not very nice witchcraft at that. The house wants Mrs. McMartin, and the rest of her dark family, back. Olive soon discovers that she can enter the house’s enchanted paintings. She also discovers a trio of talking cats (who totally rock), a be-spelled boy named Morton, and the nefarious plans of Aldous McMartin, the evil patriarch of the ancient McMartin family. Can Olive and her friends fight off the shadows? This book is spooky, exciting, funny, and kept the kids in the group on the edges of their seats (or pillows, rather).

You’ll need:

I made two example puppets – a cat (because the cats are such fantastic characters in the book), and a ghost. But the kids could make anything they wanted. We had cats, ghosts, dragons, zombies, and some sort of monster with a detachable brain. Oh yeah.

The kids started by using markers to sketch their puppets on a sheet of tagboard. They cut the entire figure out first, and then made specific cuts on the portions they wanted to manipulate later (such as cutting the tail off and reattaching it with a brass tack).

cat with brass tacksWe used the hole punch to make eyes (you can use scissors to cut eyes and mouth holes too). I had some tissue paper, twistez wire, pipe cleaners, and cellophane handy to add some texture to the shadows as well.

cat with whiskersWhen it came time to put the sticks on the puppets, we used a wooden dowel as the central stick and a lighter bamboo skewer for the moveable part. We attached the sticks with tape.

One hint about the stick placement. It’s best to attach the stick that manipulates a part of the puppet (like an arm or tail) at a slight angle. This will give it a better range of motion.

cat with sticksHere’s my ghost puppet. I made one arm moveable, cut out the eyes and the mouth with scissors, and added tissue paper drapery.

ghost puppetFor the grand show, I lowered all the shades, turned off the lights, and fired up the overhead projector (you can read more about the joys of overhead projectors here). I pointed the projector at wall and…magic!

finished puppetsNeedless to say, we had a total blast playing with our shadow puppets. The program ran for less than an hour, but it would have been interesting to keep it going for a few more – experimenting with different types of puppets, textures, and launching into spontaneous narratives. There are some interesting multicultural angles to shadow puppetry as well. Hmmm…maybe a more extensive weekend workshop is in order?

more shadows

Kamishibai

kamishibiLooking to shake up your story time with something different? Please consider kamishibai!

Kamishibai (pronounced kah-me-she-bye) is a form of Japanese storytelling that involves illustrated story cards and a small, portable stage (you can also perform without the stage). It’s colorful, dynamic, simple, and absolutely intended to be enjoyed by an audience.

Kamishibai dates back to 1930, when men (and some women) would ride around Tokyo on bicycles with wooden boxes mounted on the back. Inside the box was a kamishibai stage, story cards, and drawers full of candy. The kamishibai storytellers would travel to neighborhoods, announce their arrival, sell candy, and perform several kamishibai stories. Writers and artists produced the story cards, which were released serially with plenty of cliffhangers to keep you coming back for more stories and candy. Action adventures, melodramas, comedies, and ghost stories were among some of the most popular subjects.

kamishibai performance

The Days When We Played Downtown : Reconsideration on Culture for Children (Shitamachi de asonda koro : kodomo no bunka saiko). Tokyo: Kyoiku Kenkyusha, 1979.

Things changed in the 1950s, when television arrived in Japan. As more and more children stayed inside to watch television, the popularity of kamishibai decreased. Allen Say wrote and illustrated a beautiful picture book that captures this history. It’s titled Kamishibai Man (HMH Books, 2005). You can still find kamishibai being performed today, but its primarily in preschools, libraries, cultural events, and classrooms. There are also recreations of street kamishibai (with the bike, stage, and candy selling) being performed in parks and museums throughout Japan.

bike with stage

The Sun (Taiyō), no. 191 (March 1979). Tokyo: Heibonsha.

A few years ago, with the help of Dr. Tara McGowan (who also wrote the afterword for Kamishibai Man), I developed a kamishibai program for 1st-grade classrooms. In addition to teaching about its history and introducing some Japanese vocabulary, I perform two kamishibai stories. The last part of the program involves the students designing their own kamishibai title cards and do a quick performance in front of the class.

As a storytelling tool, kamishibai is awesome. The cards (which are about  10.5″ x 15“) are colorful, bold, and designed to be viewed by an audience. With the exception of the title card, there is no text accompanying the images on the front of the cards – the text is actually printed on the back of the cards.

back of card

The Mouse’s Wedding : a kamishibai play from Japan. Retold by Seishi Horio; illustrated by Masao Kubo; translated by Donna Tamaki. New York: Kamishibai For Kids, 1992.

Ingeniously, the text that accompanies the image the audience is viewing is printed on the back of the card before that image. When you finish reading a card, you move it from the front of the stack to the back. The audience sees a new image, and you have the text that accompanies the new image in front of your eyes, ready to be read. If this sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. Trust me when I say that the cards are incredibly easy to use. Much easier, in fact, than craning your neck to read from a picture book during story time!

Because the text is printed on the backs of the cards, kamishibai stages are, in essence, backless. Here’s a shot of the back of my stage. It’s also open on one side so I can reach in and pull out the cards. So clever.

back of stageI purchased this wooden stage and a set of story cards from Kamishibai for Kids, a web company based in NYC. On their site you will find a fantastic selection of story cards, including several classic Japanese folktales. A single story (which typically consists of 12-16 cards) costs around $30. The wooden stage costs $175. But you can forgo the stage and perform with just the cards. It will still be fantastic.

just the cardsYou can also make your own cards with poster board or card stock. Part of my 1st-grade program involves the students designing their own title cards. Title cards are the very first card of the story – they feature the title and a picture that sets the stage for the rest of the story. I show examples of title cards from our special collections. Here’s one of my favorites. The kids always yell that I’m holding it upside down, but then they realize the story is about bats!

bats

Adventure of Saburo, the Bat (Komori Saburo no boken). Tokyo: Kokumin Gageki, 1950.

I tell the 1st-graders that street kamishibai stories were meant to be bold, exciting, and sensational, so they should think of a topic that really excites them. And they definitely deliver. Here are a few I snapped last year:

the best food fightthe attack of ragethe tornadothe bird with three teeththe princess bookthe haunted houseThe 1st-grade cards displayed above are on 5″ x 8″ card stock. They’re custom-sized to fit a reproduction toy kamishibai stage from our collections. At the end of the program, each kids gets to take a stage home! Alas, we only have time to make a title card during my program, but I always leave the teacher a card template in case he/she wants to continue work on the stories (and many do!).

As you can imagine, kamishibai is a fantastic way to expose students to another culture while teaching art, writing, performance, and literacy skills. I only scratch the surface with my program, but Dr. McGowan has been doing intensive kamishibai workshops with children for years. It was the subject of her dissertation as well as a book for educators (see below). It’s definitely worth checking out!

kamishibai classroom

Used with permission of the author (Libraries Unlimited, 2010).