A house full of miniature replica scenes, from a children’s bedroom to a witch’s shop.
Years in the making
Most treasured item
A minuscule gift shop, complete with teeny-tiny jewelry.
Most sentimental item
A miniature version of a wedding cake and bouquet, given to the collector’s daughter and new son-in-law.
Anyone afflicted with the craving for crafting understands the magpie instinct to collect. Anything shiny, sparkling, cute, or eye-catching goes home with the crafter simply because it might, one day, come in handy.
Sandra Matthews Manring of Spring understands that impulse better than most. For more than forty years, she’s been collecting items as disparate as “cats and dogs and Welsh cabinets,” along with “little statues of anything and everything.” The only requirement for her stash of supplies is that they be miniature, or capable of being cut down to size to inhabit a manufactured world a fraction the size of our own. Though the pieces in her collection are tiny, her passion for small-scale replicas is fierce.
Manring’s enthusiasm for miniatures began with a general interest in crafting that spanned knitting, crochet, and sewing. She pursued those interests all the way to a craft show in St. Louis, where she discovered the artistic medium that has called to her for almost half a century. “I walked into that place and I fell in love with miniatures,” she says.
A woman at the show was creating tiny figures from polymer clay and gave Manring her first lesson in crafting small. Manring enjoyed it so much, she invited the woman over for an at-home workshop. More shows followed. She attended gatherings in Chicago and in Columbia, Missouri, and later in Houston, Dallas, and Killeen, after Manring and her husband moved to Texas in 1991. Shows gave way to miniatures clubs (she’s now in two, one of which meets weekly), where Manring and her peers learn new miniature techniques and skills together.
As her hobbyist community grew, so did her collection, which now numbers in the thousands. It’s difficult to know the exact number of tiny animals, chairs, knickknacks, and the like, because the figures are a) small and copious and b) curated in diorama-type displays called “room boxes.” Past room boxes include a tiny German woodshop; a miniature men’s clothing shop, complete with miniature men’s suits and turtlenecks made out of socks; an exact replica of a little girl’s room designed by HGTV maven Candice Olson; and an Easter scene that revolves on an axis to reveal papier-mâché rabbits, wooden carrots, eggs, and a garden. Because Manring is originally from England, she also sneaks in thumbnail posters of the queen or the British flag in many of her creations. In the little girl’s room, she hung tiny photos of herself as a child.
From the room where she’s speaking to me, Manring can see at least 26 such boxes. In the adjacent living room, glass cases filled with room boxes border both sides of the television. She first says the only room free of miniatures is the bedroom, but then she remembers she does have some boxes displayed on shelves there too. “It’s more or less taking over my life. My husband says the house looks like a museum because I have so many room boxes,” she says.
Lke a museum, Manring’s home has played host to troops of Girl Scouts presumably marveling over the adorably tiny set pieces. Manring’s husband of 51 years also enjoys showing off his wife’s creations, particularly the miniature scenes she creates inside watch faces and walnut shells. In support of her hobby, he purchased the large cases that now sit in their living room and converted a wet bar into a showcase space. He also purchased a laser cutter for his wife, which he uses to cut small furniture pieces for assembly.
As a forty-year veteran of the craft—and one with an official artisan designation from the International Guild of Miniature Artisans—Manring is now a leader in her community. Once the student at that long ago craft show, she is now the teacher, providing classes in her specialty genre of miniature florals. Using Japanese crepe paper, hole punches, and tacky glue, she can shape small scraps into tulips, irises, roses, and more. At her latest workshop, she taught attendees to whittle bamboo out of toothpicks.
And she shows no signs of losing her love of miniatures. Already, she’s planning for a big show in February, when one of the clubs she’s a part of, the Texas-based Society of American Miniaturists, will celebrate its birthday. Until then, she’ll continue to collect, create, and conceive of new scenes to replicate on a tinier scale.