1). What made you decide to create a dollhouse? Have you always been interested in the realm of miniatures or was this a project that you found yourself recently drawn to?
I’d have to say that the seed of intrigue when it comes to miniatures was planted when I was very young. My grandparents took me on a day trip to the Ernest Warther Museum and Gardens in Dover, Ohio. Ernest Warther was a remarkable artisan who hand sculpted and carved miniature steam engines from wood and ivory. One piece hypnotized me (actually traumatized me at the time) and that was the Lincoln Funeral Train. I remember peering into this to tiny train and seeing an even tinier Abraham Lincoln in an open casket. It just bewitched me. It terrified me, this small thing. Since then, I’ve always been an admirer of miniatures and miniatures artists, particularly of the “creepy” ilk, but I always thought, “Oh, I could never do that, I’m not a good enough artist.” But a couple of years ago my friend Mary Kay, who was creating a dollhouse of her own at that time, encouraged me and I finally made the jump from the silent observer outside the funeral car to contrasting miniature uncanny worlds of my own.
2). Dollhouses mean something different to everyone. Some believe that they represent childhood, innocence, uninhibited imagination, and for others they symbolize completely different things. What do dollhouses represent for you?
To me it is completely uninhibited imagination. As a poet, sitting down to work on my dollhouse is akin to writing a poem. In a limited amount of space, everything matters and must be carefully arranged to maximize the narrative or sentiment I am attempting to create. These parameters force me to get more creative not only in how to tangibly build a room within the house but also lead me to narratives that I may never have thought of before if not for the literal space of the dollhouse stretching my imagination. I love to create spaces of abandon, decay, and deterioration in my dollhouse. I love that it elicits questions of Who lived here? Why is there a burn mark on the ceiling? What are these claw marks on the wood? Why is there a mummified hand in the rusted-out fridge on the side of the house? Who last walked through these doors and why did they leave? There is a story arising from the choices I make with the design and layout. It is also not lost on me that my dollhouse hobby took on obsessive levels during the height of the pandemic when I also became a mother for the first time. To me a dollhouse is also about control. I’m creating this small deteriorating world but at least I’m in control of this deterioration. I couldn’t hold dominion over the world of the virus or the needs of a new, tiny human but I could be sovereign of my dollhouse.
3). I can’t begin to describe how excited it made me to see you recreate the ending of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle where the two Blackwood sisters Merricat and Constance are given food by the villagers who previously stormed their house and vandalized it. Do you see your dollhouse as a literary project of sorts and will Jackson’s work continue to be referenced throughout it?
Creating this diorama inspired by one of my favorite writers was such a joy. I was always taken with that moment in We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The violence enacted against the Blackwoods is horrifying and then the townspeople baking and leaving a pie on their doorstep as a token of apology or regret is so absurd. I think about this scene constantly. It takes up a room in my brain to which I open the door almost daily. I definitely plan to continue to reference Jackson’s work in my dollhouse and other miniatures projects. I would love to re-create Constance’s kitchen and I have been dreaming up a garden scene diorama featuring the sundial from The Sundial. I would love to do a whole series of dioramas inspired by Shirley Jackson.
4). Which section of your dollhouse are you currently working on? What’s the most enjoyable part about fashioning this room and what is the most difficult?
I am currently stuck on the living room. It has been a work-in-progress for a long time because I can’t seem to land on a vision. One thing I do know I want wall-to-wall pink carpet. The story building around this house is that it is set way back in the Florida woods and there is a resident alligator who lurks around the grounds, under the porch, and occasional slinks inside the house. I want to make a dirty, muddy trail from the front door to the kitchen where the alligator drags its fat tail. That’s as far as I get with what/how I want to craft for the living room. I have been trying to make a crumbling plaster ceiling that I can’t seem to pull off on a technical level. It can get frustrating when things don’t come together. Usually, I just move to another room/project and give myself some time away. My frustration with not making any progress with my dollhouse living room lead me to make the We Have Always Lived in the Castle diorama. I’ll get this living room going…one day.
5). What advice would you give to someone who might want to create a dollhouse of their own?
If you are building a dollhouse from a kit, keep all the pieces and follow the directions! Kits come with blueprints and steps are in order for a reason—haha. But if you aren’t interested in building from scratch there are a lot of places to find a dollhouse already built and you can make it your own (hobby stores, garage sales, thrift shops, etc.) I did not thoroughly enjoy building the structure from scratch—though it was rewarding when I was done—I just wanted to hurry up and start designing “the look” of it all. I recently bought my second house from a retired couple who were downsizing and listed their daughters’ childhood dollhouse online. It was a steal.
Also, this hobby can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be easy to get wrapped up in having the “right” tools and materials, but you can do wonders with recycled mailing boxes and dollar store foam board. You can start with a smaller project like a diorama if you are not ready to commit to a dollhouse. The Castle diorama is made with mostly foam board, egg carton, sand, dirt from a flowerpot, and inexpensive craft store paint. You can create a whole mood with discarded items and if you think you can’t do it, you can!
Trista Edwards is the author of Spectral Evidence (April Gloaming Press, 2020). She practices hearthcraft at MARVEL + MOON (www.marvelandmoon.com) and you can read more of her poetry at www.tristaedwards.com. She lives in Denton, Texas with her husband, son, and their two pups.