A miniature childhood
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Now 25, and a graduate with a First in creative writing, Kira Swales recalls a life in miniatures through the eyes of a child
(above: Kira Swales helping out at a miniatures fair)
I’ve come from what you might call a dolls’ house dynasty. My mother, Angie Scarr, makes her living in miniatures, and her mother before her made dolls’ houses and furniture. And so, naturally, I grew up in a big world of tiny things.
I was always able to play shopkeeper or conduct dinner parties with the fake foods and minuscule crockery lying around the house. I liked how that with Fimo, unlike Play-doh, I could create a misshapen blue rabbit or a blobby flower and bake it into a permanent gift for a family member. I loved the fact that I could explore a miniature version of the house my grandmother was evacuated to during the war – every detail replicated fastidiously by her hands and memory. Having my own dolls’ house was fun too, as I didn’t have to be so careful like I did with all the rest. I enjoyed opening up the front of the house and being able to see every room on every floor, feeling temporarily omnipotent.
Cute but cringeworthy
It was normal for me, from a very young age, to travel across the country and beyond to tables at fairs and to help out when my mum taught classes. I saw the world in miniatures, with the privilege of attending fairs across the globe.
I even featured in a cute but cringeworthy segment of one of her videos back in the ‘90s! Although it was commonplace for me, I still found myself captivated by the artistry involved, and always stole half an hour or so to wander around and see what the other stallholders had to offer. Their individual creative flairs always shone through, and this inspired me.
For me Miniatura was always the biggest and best of the English fairs. Since the other attendees had seen me grow up, they were always very kind. My favourite stall to visit was Alex Blythe’s, as her creations were always the most unusual. One piece that caught my attention was a table around which a group of mythical outcasts were playing cards. The characters included a punk mohawked mermaid and a smoking, leather jacket-wearing angel.
Unlike many of the other historical works I was seeing, Alex wasn’t afraid to be different with her fantastical take on miniatures. It was vibrant and colourful, from the glittering scales of mermaids and dragons, to the perfectly grimy details of cigarette burns and rings on the card table from the lack of miniscule coasters. Her kids were always there too. They were a similar age to me, and it was reassuring to know that there were other children growing up in the same bizarre world.
Quirky and inventive
I often found myself just as fascinated by the people in the
dolls’ house scene as I was by the miniatures. Miniaturists are some of the warmest, quirkiest, most inventive people I know, and some of the most hard-working. I saw my mum stay up late into the night working on ideas for new creations, and up again at dawn to start making them a reality. I saw women older than my grandmothers lugging heavy cases around at 7am to set up their displays, chatted with them as we sat in a freezing hall for ten hours. Miniaturists taught me that if you have something special, be it a passion for something or a well honed skill, you can make that special thing your world. If you work hard, that effort will be recognised, and it’s possible to always be surrounded by what you love doing, and by other people who love the same things.
I learned to make miniatures the way other kids might learn how to bake a cake. By watching my mother day after day, carefully and efficiently blending and shaping the colourful Fimo blocks, I was soon able to join in myself; during busy periods we became a production team for little things. I’ve since used what I’ve learned for my own pursuits. From school projects to jewellery making and more, ‘miniaturing’ has taught me countless transferable skills.
Cabbage shades of green
Being the daughter of a miniaturist wasn’t always the best. The little things were always present. I would take off my shoes at a friend’s house, and tiny slices of fake fruit would tumble out. These same slices got stuck in carpets, between bedsheets and in drinks. I found Fimo squashed between the sofa cushions and stacks of 1:12 scale plates in the kitchen when one would normally expect to find full-sized crockery. Holidays were always working holidays, and long working and travelling hours were the norm.
But growing up around miniatures influenced me in so many ways I wasn’t even aware of until I began to consider it. I can identify how much blue and yellow creates a cabbagey shade of green. At work, I instinctively know which fabrics in the shop will have prints suitable for 1:12 scale curtains. As a child, I sampled fruit that I wouldn’t have encountered had they not been sitting around the house waiting to be replicated in polymer clay.
Imagination and experimentation were encouraged and this had a huge effect on me when I was young. I was welcomed with open arms into this creative community with a sense of the camaraderie and kindness of the members, as much as of the creativity and art involved. Although I moved away from the miniature scene as I grew older, I will always remember the hours spent playing with colour and scale, the trips to Miniatura and the people I have met. The impact of growing up in the world of miniatures is a part of me.
Angie Scarr Miniatures,
Alex Blythe has since retired from making miniatures.
(above: Kira and her mum, Fimo expert Angie Scarr)
(below: One of Kira's favourite pieces was modelled by Alex Blythe)