Willmar artisan creates beautiful rooms from the tiniest of treasures
Melanie Lady, of Willmar, has been passionate about miniatures for most of her life. Today, her home is full of miniature rooms, mostly kitchens, that she has created over the years.
WILLMAR — Miniatures have been a popular art form for thousands of years. Replica rooms and small figurines were found in the tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs, and modern dollhouses and tiny rooms date as far back as the 16th century.
Throughout the last 450 years, miniature rooms and homes have been both an adult's entertainment and a child's pastime. Today, people of all ages still enjoy creating these miniature worlds.
One of them, Willmar resident Melanie Lady, has had a passion for miniatures since she was a young girl.
"I just like the tiny stuff," Lady said.
Lady proudly displays her finished miniature rooms throughout her home. Her first completed room was a traditional Nuremberg kitchen, named for Nuremberg, Germany, which has a long history of toy-making.
"Dollhouses were too big and I love to cook," Lady said as to why she is drawn to miniature rooms, and kitchens especially.
Lady believes she gets her creative and artistic talents from her parents, Shirley and Jerry Derr. Her mother was also passionate about miniatures, specifically dollhouses and antique dolls. Lady's father, a master woodworker, supported his daughter's hobby by building and refinishing wood boxes and shelves.
Each of Lady's miniature rooms are a work of art in their own right, but they are filled with many different pieces and memories. In her kitchens, Lady uses everything from 100-year-old miniature stoves and handmade copper pots and pans from Germany to handwoven baskets and tiny pieces of painted pottery from Mexico — and even handicrafts such as knitted rugs from friends to create a complete kitchen story.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find those really high-quality, handcrafted pieces nowadays.
"They don't make that stuff anymore," Lady said.
Over the years, Lady has been able to grow her collection of miniatures through local thrift stores, while on vacation and at sales held by the Midwest Miniatures Guild. She has also received many pieces as gifts from friends and family over the years. Throughout her home Lady has miniatures such as figurines and kitchen items just waiting to be added to the perfect room design.
"I've just collected this stuff forever," Lady said.
One of the aspects of miniatures Lady enjoys is the artistry that goes into creating such tiny pieces. Some of the best-known dollhouses, such as Queen Mary's Dolls' House at Windsor Castle in London or Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle in Chicago, are full of perfectly made miniatures — from working faucets to printed books and needlepoint tapestries. It can be amazing what people are able to create at the smallest size.
"People are so creative," Lady said.
When it comes to starting a new room, sometimes Lady builds an entire design around one or two pieces. Others she comes up with a room design and finds the pieces to go in from her ever-growing collection of miniatures.
In addition to kitchens, Lady has also completed a bake shop, tea shop, toy shop and a horse-themed room. Her next idea is a Japanese art gallery. She already has many items to go in it, some pieces she has had for years.
"You just collect it, and when you think you're ready, you start putting it together," Lady said.
Lady continues to get great enjoyment out of collecting and creating her miniature rooms. While some might think miniatures and dollhouses are just for children, Lady knows they can be great fun for adults as well, as a way to let your imagination run free and your creativity soar.
"It is just fun to play," Lady said.