A Great Big Love for Teeny Tiny Things

Exploring my love of miniatures

2/18/20244 min read

I was a nut for miniatures before they were cool. I know that now it’s a “big” business, with TV shows and DIY videos/books dedicated to the art of the little bitty. But even when I was very young, I was mesmerized by tiny representations of real life until I hardly understood what was real.

When I was little and lived on Lake Michigan, my parents took me to the top of what was then the Sears Tower. I looked down at the streets and cars in miniature below, and in my mind the view became one with the giant model train at the old COSI in Columbus. They were both real and not real. There were stories in them: tiny stories of tiny figures at a tiny gas station and big stories of the people who had spent hours upon hours creating those scenes.

So, I ruined all my fine-tipped markers as a kid, designing houses on driveway gravel and laying out elaborate towns among tree roots. I rocked the dioramas in school. My favorite was a cross-section of Indian burial mounds in the fourth grade, which made them test me all over again to confirm that I wasn’t technically gifted … just strange.

I loved nativity scenes, enhancing them with dramatic sub-stories starring the shepherds and a flying carpet (I’ve been forgiven). Christmas was filled with other mini magic, of course: scenes within shining ornaments, small ice skating ponds with figures you could move around with magnets.

Now, embracing the quirkiness of whatever age I am at the time, I build dollhouses and other small things big on details. I competed nationally with a scale model of Ben Franklin’s printing press when I taught Journalism. It goes without saying I’ve made plenty of little books.

So, what?


I’ve been asking myself that all my life, and lately there are theories being put forth since it turns out I’m not alone in my preoccupation with the very small. Some theorize it’s our connection to play as a child. Others say we have an innate love of “cute” things that are the opposite of threatening. In a world so often out of control, it feels good to have this wee bit of it under control. Another theory claims our brains release happy hormones when we see any little thing in need of care, like baby animals or baby humans or even HO-scale model railroad carnivals.

I think there’s more, though.

It took a character in my book, Pressed Together, to help me put to words what’s always tugged at my soul over the miniscule, the small. In honor of a real man I got to talk to from the Buckeye Lake area twenty-five years ago, my main character composes a heartfelt obituary for her newspaper about a man named Harley. Harley - like his real life counterpart - produced little, tiny wooden tea service sets for children. It was just a hobby for him. In real life and in the book, the whole tea set could fit on a quarter. I hardly need to tell you I was enchanted. Anyway, in the obituary my character Emily writes, she draws a parallel between miniature creations and the divine:

There is wonder in the small stuff. Harley understood that. All over the lake area, generations of people on any given day can hold a complete, wooden tea set in the palm of their hands, wondering at the craftsmanship, guarding the pieces with a passion they barely understand. What they’re marveling over, though, is the intricacy of Creation. It’s the same thing that causes a shiver in the scientist peering through her microscope. It’s the wonder of a fingerprint, unique in its pattern. There was a love of detail (and for those who would appreciate it) in Harley’s work. It mirrors the intricacies of God’s Creation and of his love for amazing us with power that is both universe-expansive and as small as a newborn baby’s thumb.

All Emily was saying … I mean all I’m saying … is, there’s something inside of us that is blown away by the power of the very big and of the very small, and I’m starting to think we’re programmed that way.

Please share your favorite “little things” with me if you have them! And if you don’t have them, let’s meet at Hobby Lobby and get started!


Psalm 139: 14: “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

Some of my favorite mini creations pictured here: a dollhouse, a bookshelf street scene, and an 18th-century printing press! (See the video at the bottom for something even wackier that I didn't have a hand in making)

So, this video shows an old music box passed down from a great aunt. It was full of knickknacks, but the little telescope-looking thing inside contains the entire Ten Commandments if you squint into it! In King James calligraphy, nonetheless! My childhood mind was BLOWN.