Losing a parent is never easy. Last year I lost my precious father, an amazing man whom I was extremely close to. In the last years of his storied life, he shared more and more about his childhood, growing up on a poultry and dairy farm. When he wasn’t delivering milk, eggs and chickens, he was a voracious reader who learned to fish, hunt, cook, fix automobiles, tend a large garden and play an acoustic guitar. Later he learned coastal navigation, astronomy and went on to become a U.S. Army paratrooper in the 505th of the 82nd Airborne.
“Jack of all trades, master of none” did NOT apply to my father. He was a man of many longstanding interests, so when my husband suggested I create a tribute dollhouse to my father, my eyes turned to an unusual “wall house” kit we had built in 2021.
The shell was complete and the tape wire had been installed but on that day, in January 2023, it was just a blank canvas. There were no windows or even a door. I had planned to make it into a farmhouse but perhaps it was never finished because it was destined for something better, something special?
Could I really do this? Can miniatures play a role in healing? Would this empty wall house transform to a fitting tribute to my father? I did not have the answers then, but I set to work inspired by Dad’s eagerness to try new things.
Four months later, it is now Bob’s House… a quirky little farmhouse on the rural outskirts of the coastal town of Bridgeport, CT set in the late 1940’s when my father was about 12 years old. This tribute to his childhood (and lifelong interests) became a powerful way to work through my grief. What was to be a nondescript farmhouse is now quite special to me, quirks and all.
Real Good Toys has long since retired their “wall houses”. These dollhouses have no windows or doors and the flat backs are intended to be bolted to the wall, like a kitchen cabinet.
This kit is the “Miniature Showcase” model which I found on eBay in late 2020. My husband added three windows and a door and I did not use all the room dividers, thus Bob’s House is 7 rooms instead of 9. I chose fewer, larger rooms in order to have enough space to build a closet, pantry and hall and to add a staircase. At some point I will also add a small porch to the left side of the house.
Bob’s House has been electrified and the wallpapering, flooring and shiplap are now complete. Most of the furniture is in place but it still needs the basics… curtains, towel bars, bedding, plants, wall art and, of course, my food!
Dad recalled the kitchen floor was painted and stenciled – check. There was always a bar of brown soap by the kitchen sink and red Lifebuoy in the bathroom – check. The staircase was in the dining room – check. The closet in his room had built in shelves above it – check and there were Shaker peg rails “everywhere” – check. These aspects were fairly straightforward to achieve but the shiplap walls for the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom proved to be quite a challenge (more on that in future posts).
The rooms are being filled with things my father talked about and loved. His mother, my grandmother, was an avid needleworker making all the clothing and soft furnishings for their home with her talent for crochet, sewing and cross-stitch, hence the sewing room. My grandmother always kept an African Violet in the kitchen window, Dad loved comic books as a boy and he recalled the heavenly aroma of fresh baked bread… all on my to-do list.
As I mentioned, Dad’s house had a few quirks! Via his memories, I’ve installed a pantry beneath the stairs in the kitchen with slanted shelving up top for storing wine bottles out of the kids’ reach… a built-in closet/bookcase in his room that had a squeaky door (not sure if I can make it squeaky, LOL), a bathtub without a shower head and Windsor chairs in the dining room.
Bob’s House is a work in progress and I will enjoy adding to it and making things for it over time. I’ve taught myself how to crochet in miniature and have already begun the granny square afghan for his mini boyhood bed. The full size afghan was special to him because his mother made it and he treasured it well into adulthood. I will post updated photos as my work progresses but for now I thought you might like to see the humble beginnings of a labor of love.
I took a few photos of random stages of development of Bob’s House along the way. Follow my blog posts as I share various projects for each room.
Hopefully my modest tribute dollhouse will inspire others to create tribute dollhouses or roomboxes for their loved ones too. It can help channel your sadness into something productive… a preservation of memories to honor those we’ve lost. In the fullness of time these tiny time-capsule tributes may help create a connection between the older and younger generations of our families. For now, mine is a tribute to a man who loved family and home as much as he did learning new things.
So, can miniatures play a role in healing?
For me the answer is yes. Art, in many different forms, has the power to express the human experience and miniatures, perhaps more than any other art form, reveal an intimate look inside the homes and daily lives of folks who lived in those homes. You can look at a snapshot of your grandmother’s kitchen but seeing and interacting with a replica of that same kitchen in miniature, is surely more provocative.
As I fill “Little Bob’s” bedroom with everything from a fishing creel to an acoustic guitar, I remember Dad teaching me to fish and strumming away into the wee hours on the night of my wedding reception. That brings a smile to my face…
That is healing.
Remember the good times, mini friends. They are worth preserving.
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IGMA Artisan Robin Brady-Boxwell