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! 

Pit Sweet Pit

pit interiorAh, the comforts of home…a rug, a chair, a reading lamp, a good book, and a pit to put it all in. Wait…a PIT?

pit exteriorWe read Uncle Frank’s Pit by Matthew McElligott (Viking Juvenile, 1998). When Uncle Frank comes to visit, the family is somewhat incredulous when he claims – after some calculations with a coat hanger – that there is treasure buried in the backyard. Uncle Frank starts to dig. And dig. And dig. First, he brings in a ladder to help him climb out. Then a chair to rest in. Eventually, Uncle Frank moves into the pit – which is now fully decorated and wired with electricity. When the subterranean hot tub arrives, however, Dad puts his foot down. But the adventure isn’t over quite yet. Turns out Uncle Frank was right. There IS something buried in the backyard!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • Brown construction paper
  • 1 piece of green construction paper (approximately 3″ x 12″)
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • 1 rectangle of felt (mine was 2.5″ x 4″)
  • 2 wooden beads
  • 1 beverage cap
  • 1 small box (mine was 3” x 3” x 2” but any small box will do)
  • 1 rectangular kitchen sponge
  • pit decor template printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 1 small craft stick
  • Hot glue
  • Markers for decorating
  • Scissors and tape for construction

Start by covering the outside of the oatmeal container with brown construction paper. We created “dirt layers” with other shades of brown construction paper too, but that step is completely optional.

dirt layersFringe the piece of green construction paper and tape it around the mouth of the oatmeal container. This is the “grass” growing at the top of your pit. It’s OK if the grass doesn’t go all the way around the oatmeal container (after all, you need some room for your mailbox and front door!). I stuck flower stickers at the base of the grass to reinforce the idea that the pit extends underground, but flowers drawn on with markers work too.

The pit is complete, now for some interior decorating! Begin by using the patterned paper as wallpaper. Next comes the rug, which is a rectangular piece of felt, fringed on two ends (since little kid scissors don’t do so well with felt, we did the fringing in advance).

To make a lamp & table, color 2 wooden beads with markers. One bead is the lampshade, and the other bead is the lamp base. When the decorating is complete, hot glue the beads together. Then hot glue the entire lamp to the beverage cap “table.”

lamp and tableWe also made some tiny books (in advance) by folding construction paper over white copy paper and stapling the spine. I couldn’t resist adding an oh-so-relevant title to mine.

bookTo create a comfy reading chair, cut a small box into a couch-like shape (since our boxes were white, we decorated them with markers). Next, cut a kitchen sponge to create a bottom cushion, a backrest, two armrests, and two throw pillows. It’s best to attach the sponge pieces with hot glue (except the throw pillows, of course).

couch stepsThe throw pillows were a really nice touch, especially since they were created from the different sponge scraps already on the table.

Now for some art! Fill in the empty picture frames on the pit decor template and attach them to the walls with tape. And don’t forget to attach the interior ladder that leads up to your “front door!”

The last step to your fabulous dream pit is the mail box. First, locate the large dotted line.

mailbox step 1Then fold the paper downward, along the large dotted line, like so:

mailbox step 2Curl it over to the other side of the mailbox, and tape.

mailbox step 3 and 4Next, cut the template along the small dotted line.

mailbox step 5Then fold the two tabs down and tape.

mailbox step 6 and 7Finish by taping the flag on the mailbox and hot gluing the small craft stick onto the back of the mailbox.

flag and postThen hot glue the mailbox to the outside of the oatmeal container.

you've got mailUncle Frank definitely finds something in the back yard, so as a final touch, I hot glued a “treasure” (i.e. an old foreign coin) at the bottom of each pit.

treasure