Small Celebrations

BY Laura Latzko

Miniatures often capture scenes from specific time periods and places.

Each year, the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures gives visitors a glimpse into holiday celebrations in different parts of the world and time periods through “Holidays Around the World and Through Time.”

Running from November 25 to January 10, the exhibit changes regularly while trying to keep favorites that patrons look forward to every year, says Gentry Spronken, the museum’s associate director and marketing director.

“I think that it’s become a holiday tradition,” Spronken says. ‘There are people who come and they want to see their miniature. We definitely want to add new things so there’s reason to come back and see them again.”

Spronken says the miniatures bring back memories for visitors.

“I think that viewing miniatures can be a really personal thing for a lot of people,” Spronken says.

“It’s really nostalgic. Either they have some familiarity with dollhouses or model making from their youth, or it’s the setting or the time depicted in the miniature that is nostalgic for them.”

The exhibition will have holiday scenes from an Edwardian manor,  a midcentury modern home, a German Christkindlmarkt Christmas market, a Southwestern town, an 18th century English home and a Danish abode.

Last year, the museum added an 1870s Midwestern log cabin holiday scene inspired by the Laura Ingalls Wilder cabin.

Extensive research goes into each scene to make sure they fit with the culture or time period.

“As a museum, we have a duty to be factual and informative. We want to the best of our ability to make sure we are presenting things accurately,” Spronken says.

The holiday scenes are mostly created with miniatures from the museum’s permanent collection.

“The criteria we use for selecting them is to select a miniature that makes sense with the holiday,” Spronken says.

Some of the miniatures are newer, while others are antique pieces dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

The vignettes are brought to life through miniature items such as themed Christmas trees, ornaments, presents and decorations. Many of the miniature items are made by artisans specializing in areas such as silversmithing, knitting, textiles or embroidery.

For example, the mittens on display inside the log cabin were made by an artisan who specializes in miniature knitting, and the icicles were created by artists from the Sonoran Glass School.

“One of our focuses is trying to identify miniature artisans that work in a particular medium or have a specialty and commissioning them to create something,” Spronken says.

Spronken says the miniatures can help patrons to learn more about other cultures and time periods in an immersive way.

“There is something powerful about miniatures,” Spronken says. “They draw you in. You can picture yourself in that setting. It helps the information stick when you learn something new, when you connect it with that visual.”

The miniatures give a glimpse into winter traditions like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Japanese Shogatsu celebrations.

“That is certainly a focus, is to represent all the different ways that people celebrate during this season of the year,” Spronken says.

The museum has been decorating for the holidays since it opened in 2009. In addition to the special miniature scenes, the museum also offers supplemental decorations during the holidays.

The decorations, such as a large pinata, nutcracker and dreidel, are inspired by the pieces in the miniature scenes.

This year, to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the museum is limiting the number of people in it at a time and requiring masks inside the facility. It is recommended that visitors buy timed tickets in advance.

For those who are not comfortable going out in public or who live outside of Tucson, the museum has expanded its website, providing information on the meaning and history behind the miniature scenes as well as ideas for at-home craft activities, music selections and recipes.

“There is still a segment of the population who isn’t willing or isn’t able to visit,” Spronken says. “We are trying to serve and reach those people as well as broaden our reach. People aren’t able to travel around the world at the drop of a hat. This will allow people from anywhere to experience this.”

As part of Community Corner series, which showcases emerging artists, the museum will spotlight the work of Sahuarita artist Tom Del Giorno from December 15 to May 2. In his work, he presents street scenes from growing up in New York City in the 1950s through ‘70s.