Nestled in the northeastern part of Tucson is The Mini Time Machine – Museum of Miniatures. Founded in 2009, this specialty museum showcases over 500 antique and contemporary mini houses and room boxes. Pat and Walter Arnell, specifically Pat, collected items displayed here over a period of 30 years.
Pat’s interest in miniature houses began in the 1930s when she received her first dollhouse. She packed her doll furniture away for many years. After moving to Tucson in the 1970s, Pat began to acquire more miniatures. Once in Arizona, she discovered a community of miniaturists. She became a member and also a supporter of NAME (National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts) and IGM (International Guild of Miniature Artisans). As a miniature artist herself and an avid collector, she fostered friendships with artisans worldwide.
Pat and Walter wanted to share their collection with the public so they established a non-profit 15,560 sq. ft. museum that boasts more than 40,000 visitors annually. The museum is divided into three main sections: the History Gallery, the Contemporary Miniatures, and the Enchanted Realm. They also have a dedicated space for special exhibits.
“The Sentinels of the Sea,” a special exhibit, will be on display from January-May 2022. Lloyd McCaffery creates scaled replicas of figureheads seen on the bows of 19th century clipper ships. It was amazing how detailed these miniatures are. Interestingly, Mr. McCaffery was born in Oklahoma yet from an early age ships fascinated him. He did not see the ocean until after he finished high school and moved to Oregon. For over 50 years, he has crafted model ships and figureheads. His artwork is amazing.
Salavat Fidai, in my opinion, was the most fascinating miniature artist that we saw. Born near the Ural Mountains in Russia, he was a successful lawyer and businessman who decided that his work did not inspire him so he turned his attention to creative arts. He is now a world renowned micro miniature sculptor. He fashions the tip of No. 2 lead pencils into beautiful works of art. His intricate pencil carvings are simply astounding. The average height of the sculptures is ¼ inch and he sometimes used a microscope for smaller details. According to Mr. Fidai, “The technology is very simple. I take a pencil and remove the extra.” He makes it sound so simple. His creations are truly remarkable micro sculptures.
In the History Gallery, there are dollhouses that date back to the mid-1800s. The artists who create these rooms reproduce all of the textiles, metal, glass, ceramic, wood pieces exactly as their life-sized counterparts. The master micro artists use miniature tools to create the most realistic and authentic replicas. Some of the miniaturists specialize as well. In this section of the museum, we were taken by an Automated House with moving parts. Designed and built by Emil Wick about 1885, the house has animated figures that, like a clock, move when wound up and it also plays two tunes.
The Enchanted Realm has an Enchanted Tree that greets you when you enter this area. The tree was one of the first installations in the museum. Inside the tree trunk, are small depictions of the lives of mice who dwell there. There are many whimsical miniatures in this realm such as a collection of Kewpie figures or Pocket Dragons. Famous storybook characters such as Cinderella and Goldilocks appear here to the delight of children, old and new. There are Winter Wonderland scenes and spooky Halloween scenes too.
One of the featured special exhibits is the Addams Family Mini Mansion. Ara Bentley, who was an architect by training, worked on this creation for 10 years. Based on the 1960s TV Show, she made most of the items by hand. To enhance her project, she also collaborated with other miniaturists through swaps and gifts. Throughout the process, she shared her journey via her YouTube channel, Bentley House Minis. Ara says that, “I was inspired by the Addams family because they are are a loving family who are not afraid to be themselves.” Her miniature creation will be on display until October 30, 2022.
The Mini Time Machine Museum has so much to offer. You could spend hours in this museum (which we did) and still not see everything. It was a great fun to share this experience with our good friends, Jim and Jan. They suggested that we go see this museum and we were so glad that we did! Thanks for the great recommendation, Jim and Jan!