See a big world of miniatures in Tucson

TUCSON, AZ (Arizona Highways TV) – A set of giant wooden doors leads to a world of mini wonders. The Mini Time Machine of Miniatures in Tucson takes you beyond your imagination and lets you explore the world at large.

“I think many people hear the word ‘miniatures,’ and maybe their first thought is dollhouses or playthings for children,” Gentry Spronken said. “It’s not. There’s a lot of artistry involved with the creation of miniatures, and there are applications in many other facets of things that our society does. But it’s also about education, and it’s about imagination.”

The museum’s permanent collection is comprised of three galleries.

“We have our Enchanted Realm Gallery, which is fantasy-based miniature,” Spronken explained. We have the contemporary Exploring the World Gallery, which showcases contemporary artists, fine-scale, and miniatures that depict other places around the world. And our History Gallery, which is antique miniatures dating as far back as 1742.”

The most popular scale for contemporary miniatures is a 1:12 scale. A foot in real life equals an inch in the miniature world.

“Many miniatures and miniature artists that we represent in our collections are fine-scale miniature artists,” Spronken said. “They use processes and techniques that their full-scale counterparts would use in creating a piece. So, a miniature silversmith who is good at his trade will actually cast his silver using the same process that a full-scale silversmith would but on a 1:12 scale, which, as you can imagine, makes it so much more difficult to complete.”

Miniatures became one of the top three hobbies in the United States starting in the late ‘70s and remained popular for about a decade.

“Nowadays, here in our museum, what we see is sort of one or two things. Visitors come in, and they’re so amazed by the craftsmanship and just imagining that process and what it might entail to make something so tiny and so exquisite. Or they are imagining themselves in a scene, and the miniatures really allow them to be different places and in different times that they wouldn’t normally be able to experience.”

Miniatures also help people see the big picture.

“Architects have long used them to begin their process to make a scale model of something,” Spronken said. “They’re also used in theatre and cinema to create sets. Sometimes they’re seen as part of the final production, and sometimes they’re just used so the cameraman can actually envision in a three-dimensional application - where the cameras will be, where people will be, where lights will be, and that helps them fully understand when they get to their full-scale creation of that scene.”

Spronken said her favorite miniatures are in the History Gallery.

“You really get a sense for what they have been through and what they’ve been used for. The oldest piece is a Nuremberg kitchen from 1742. At that time in Germany, these kitchens were created to teach young girls how to be homemakers. So, they were sort of the predecessor of the Easy-Bake Oven,” she said. “You would have plumbing that you could actually plumb water through, so girls could learn to do the dishes and where those dishes would go. You could put a candle on the stove so they could practice applications of preparing a dinner, and not cooking the dinner, obviously, but just going through the steps of what was involved in homemaking at that time.”

Since The Mini Time Machine of Miniatures opened in 2009, more than 200,000 visitors from all over the world have walked through these doors.

“The No. 1 thing we hear is that this is more than they expected,” Spronken said. “I think people, again, they hear the word ‘miniatures,’ and they’re not sure what to expect. They maybe think of things they played with as a child, or they saw in their grandmother’s basement. Then they come here, and they see this world-class exhibit, and they see how miniatures still play an important role in our society in inspiring imagination and teaching people about things that are no longer here.”

It really is a small world after all!

The Mini Time Machine of Miniatures | 4455 E. Camp Lowell Drive, Tucson