Tuesday 22 December 2015

Season's Greetings from Small Worlds

Wishing you a joyous Christmas and a peaceful 2016
May we share many more miniature adventures together!

Anyone enjoying a visit to Bavorov this Christmas will find this greeting waiting for them in the window of Small Worlds.    Sadly most of you following my posts may never make it to my village in the Czech Republic, but I am so glad that you are still following my museum journey and should like to wish you all the very best this Christmas and for the forthcoming year.  

PS - A Christmas Coincidence.....
Just after I put this post up, an email arrived about a polar bear in dire straits in a zoo in Argentina.   Since this year's Small Worlds card was actually developed out of finding the polar bear in a charity shop, I thought that for once I would put up a link to a petition,something I would not normally do.   But after all, it is Christmas!

So if you would like to support the campaign for Arturo to be moved to a more suitable environment, please click here.   And should you actually want to adopt a polar bear you can do so through the World Wild Life Fund......

Once again - Happy Christmas!

Thursday 3 December 2015

A Winter Songfeast....

Being back in the UK is certainly very bad for me when it comes to writing blogposts.   Contrary to the saying, distance from Small Worlds does not seem to make the heart grow fonder, and although I armed myself with several sets of photos so that I could write posts even when hundreds of miles away, sadly it doesn't seem to work like that.

So my apologies for the silence since September.   Small Worlds is in fact not completely forgotten when I am back in England because I spend many hours trawling charity shops (goodwill stores for those across the ocean) looking for both miniature items, and things that I can "repurpose".   There are hardly any such shops in the Czech Republic so I have to make the most of my opportunities when here.   Well, that's my excuse for the number of bags and boxes that are rapidly filling up our tiny cottage, and I am sticking to it!

But even while I am in England there is something new to see in Small Worlds - and I have photos to prove it!  Although I realised when I looked at them that there is no making at all involved in it.   No repurposing either.  Just a seasonal scene......

Advent Sunday has just passed, St Nicholas Day is imminent, and so too is the annual Winter Songfeast. What better subject therefore than a troop of carol singers?

These delightful little dolls have been in my possession for longer than I care to remember.   I suspect I bought them in the post- Christmas sale at our local garden centre, Van Hages, a source of very many of our Christmas decorations over the years.

In their time they have played many parts - customers in a Christmas shop, relaxing in a Small Worlds Lada scene two years ago, 

and last year out in full force carolling away to the residents of the Victorian Walmer house whilst they in their turn celebrated a merry Christmas.

This year they have gathered around the village Christmas tree and, since there is a lot of snow already, those who don't feel like singing can simply enjoy themselves. 

Oh dear - that sounds as if I think that singing is not an enjoyable activity, which in the week of the annual Winter Songfeast is the last thing that I mean! On Saturday 5th December I shall be together with many friends in Cuffley, Herts, singing "a succulent selection of songs to celebrate the season, bringing warmth and harmony to the darkening year" led by Andrea Small who many of you will know as an avid -and not always entirely helpful, since her suggestions are often more than challenging - commentator on this blog.  There is still time to come along and join us - click on Andrea's name to find out how.

No snow here in Hertfordshire at the moment, but more than enough in Small Worlds to build some snowmen.   It looks as if the yellow-hatted one is actually singing along! 

Taking her ease in the horse-drawn sleigh, there is a new addition to the group...
...one of four little dolls given to me by Jana who does sterling work as the translator of the information labels on all the houses in Small Worlds.   Taking visitors round would have been much harder for me in the early days without her faithful rendering of my words into Czech - I could just pick up a label and read it off!  The same goes for my young helper, Veronika, who sometimes has recourse to the English version.

No Christmas scene would be complete without a crib (probably hard to find a much smaller one than this!).

Or, of course, Father Christmas...

Visitors to Small Worlds on Saturday 12th December, when it will be open from 8.30 to 12.30 to coincide with the Christmas Farmers' Market, will be able to enjoy the scene in person.   I am grateful to another Jana who, together with Veronika, has manned the museum for the past two Farmers' Markets and may be there again on the 12th.   If not her, then her niece Pavla.....my thanks to all of them.

I shall be back with one more post before Christmas but in the meantime I leave you with just a few more photos of fun in the snow and all good wishes for a peaceful Advent season to everyone.   

Oh and a postscript to say that Butterfly has been playing with a Small World too today - go and take a peek through the square window.....

Sunday 27 September 2015

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness......

Despite the absence of any blogposts throughout the summer reporting activity in Small Worlds, much has been going on.....not least the taking of many photos so that I can write some posts whilst in England for the next seven months.

There have been many visitors, two visits by a small TV crew, a quick flip to the UK for me to attend my neighbour's 98th birthday party, and much energy expended in trying to survive the extraordinary heat that plagued most of the Czech Republic for what seemed like endless weeks - over 40 degrees in my courtyard. Thank goodness both my house and Small Worlds have thick stone walls to keep out the very worst of the heat..

But despite the exhausting temperatures, both in Small Worlds and in my house, things have been worked on, thought about, created - four different things more or less at the same time.

Once the shell shop - of which our Victorian papa is clearly a regular customer - was out of the way, I turned 

my attention to the interior of my 1928 Triang (just as well since I have had it for thirty years or so). It will feature in a post during the winter.   I also prepared the autumn window display, made the 3D Christmas card ready for its reveal sometime in December, and created a little Christmas scene to go into the museum for the Christmas Farmers' Market.

For the first time this year, although the proper season has ended in Small Worlds, we have decided to open for the three Farmers' Markets in the run up to Christmas.   My valiant helpers will be in charge and I did my best to leave the museum in a fit state to be viewed.   The opening hours are here.

This post covers the new window display and as befits autumn in the Czech Republic, the focus is on fungi.   Our very first display, when Small Worlds opened, was also a woodland but I carefully held back the fungi for future use.

As Butterfly mentioned in a recent post, fungi are of great importance to me; it must be my Czech heritage. 
I was therefore delighted when Lynda arrived on a visit, bearing some pottery fungi from France. 

These delightful objects immediately found a home on the lounge windowsill of the Art Deco Triang, next to the tiny Atlas of Fungi just out of sight on the table in the window nook. 

Fungi are such mysterious objects;  they appear out of the soil as if from nowhere and for centuries people believed they were created by a process of spontaneous combustion.   So what better to accompany the flourish of fungi in the forest than a host of Little People?

There was very little actual making involved in this project - it consisted mostly of setting out things that I already possessed.   But one thing I did need was a few gnome homes.  

Step forward the ever-useful strawberry container - some of you may remember its incarnation as a tent.   

This time the process was a bit messier - three containers, all with little doors cut in them, coated with spray glue, and then dunked into dried moss from the Czech cheapie shop, Kik, much loved by me and Butterfly. The dried moss is horribly dusty and unpleasant to work with, but I was quite pleased with the results.

As you can see, the Oldest Inhabitant has already taken up residence.....

I made three gnome homes and then wrestled for a while with a way to put a roof onto a tree house that I have had for a long time - here seen in the original woodland window display two years ago.

At first I planned to use another Kik artifact......

....which I reduced to its component parts.   I then tried to find a way of balancing the wooden framework on the top of the tree stump and covering it with moss in a way that wouldn't look ridiculous.   

I failed totally and after much swearing I abandoned the attempt and opted for the much easier solution of a round cork placemat, dunked in moss. 

I see from the photo that I wasn't quite generous enough with the spray glue......

The only other construction necessary was a "stable" for the trusty steed to be seen in the picture above.

I had a somewhat smaller carton available and lots of lovely pieces of bark, again from Kik. (What would I do without Kik I wonder?).

It was but the work of a moment - well, quite a few moments and some swearing actually - to combine the two elements into a steed sty.

However, in the end the tortoise refused to go in and someone else took up residence.......
Another helpful shop, the Penny supermarket, had some delightful little dwarves in a special offer during the week I was putting all this together.   There were four variations, all intended as toothpick holders, but they are now fully occupied in the Enchanted Wood.   Each has a different task, now that the toothpicks have been removed from the holders.

As the inhabitants came together, I spent quite a lot of time pondering on the difference between dwarves and gnomes, elves and pixies.   

I think the Enchanted Wood has none of the latter two and I am fairly sure that these two are gnomes. 

But what of the two females?

And the two bearded elders?   Dwarves or gnomes?   I await enlightenment.....  

But regardless of clan, deep in the fungal glades of the Enchanted Wood, all is harmonious......

This was horribly tricky to photograph as a whole, and I think my camera is on its last legs, but I leave you with more pictures - and a warning to anyone reading this, and then also seeing it in real life in the window of Small Worlds - don't worry, you are not hallucinating, the whole display is indeed the other way round.

All that remains is to thank you for reading thus far; to wish you the very best of the autumn season, with much successful fungi foraying, and, as a special treat, one of my favourite poems.....

Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath
Overnight, very 
Whitely, discreetly, 
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses 
Take hold on the loam, 
Acquire the air. 
Nobody sees us, 
Stops us, betrays us; 
The small grains make room. 

Soft fists insist on 
Heaving the needles, 
The leafy bedding, 

Even the paving. 
Our hammers, our rams, 
Earless and eyeless, 

Perfectly voiceless, 
Widen the crannies, 
Shoulder through holes. We 

Diet on water, 
On crumbs of shadow, 
Bland-mannered, asking 

Little or nothing. 
So many of us! 
So many of us! 

We are shelves, we are 
Tables, we are meek, 
We are edible, 

Nudgers and shovers 
In spite of ourselves. 
Our kind multiplies: 

We shall by morning 
Inherit the earth. 
Our foot's in the door.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

She sells seashells.....

Before I launch into a description of my most recent project, an update on my last blogpost.   

I said I thought I had garden chairs and seats - I hadn't anticipated finding nine tiny chairs and three garden seats!   

And then, joy of joys, Zoe, a visitor from Dolls Houses Past and Present, came on Sunday to see Small Worlds, and had tucked some Britain's beans, complete with poles, and a bed of cabbages and another of cucumbers into her luggage - I didn't even know Britain's had made cucumbers and I was thrilled to put them straight into the garden.   

I hope she and her husband enjoyed their visit as much as I did - thanks to both of you for braving the bus from Prague.

My most recent project in Small Worlds was a matter of necessity.   At long last I have decided to tackle the Essex Pub...well, what was formerly known as the Essex Pub.   It is actually a 1920s Triang house, model number 80,  like this one, and I have owned it for many, many years.   It came to me in an appalling state. It may in fact have been one of the houses that I acquired forty years ago as a result of the advertisement in our local paper seeking "a large old dolls house".   The house was intended for my daughter, now best known to you as Butterfly, because I could find nothing in the shops that remotely resembled my own much-loved-and-lost dolls house.

I ended up with four or five large old houses, Butterfly got none of them, and of those I think I still own two.   Both will feature at some point in a blogpost.   Butterfly's own house is now played with almost daily with great delight by little Czech children, as it has pride of place in the Children's Corner.

Having moved the large Triang to the worktable where it is taking up most of the available working space, I was left with a substantial gap on the shelves precisely where people come into the museum.   I needed two small houses to fill it - the first was easy.   The half-scale American Fairfield house had been dislodged from its space on the window sill when the patisserie moved back into the display, having been in the "shop" window at the end of last summer.

So the Fairfield was perched on the corner of the worktable, where people could easily see and rotate it.  But I now needed that space to work in so it moved to half of the available space.  

But what to put in the rest of it?   Small Worlds was due to open in a few days and so it had to be something I could make quickly.

I was looking for something in the play/guest/craft room back at my house and spotted the little Tudor shop sitting on the bookshelves where it had been banished at some point last year.

This was our very first dolls house kit.   I remember buying it well over 30 years ago at a small dolls house fair, I think at the Polka Dot Theatre in Wimbledon.   It sticks in my memory because this is where I first met Caroline Hamilton who had a stall there with her friend Judith James, whose dolls we promptly fell in love with......

By the way, I can't wait to visit the new display at Newby Hall in Yorkshire which consists of the collections of both Caroline and her friend Jane Fiddick.

(A question - I wonder if anyone in the dolls house world knows the whereabouts of Judith James?   For a while she ran a toyshop in Keswick but she seems to have disappeared now.   I should love some more dolls.....)

The little Tudor shop - to be seen squashed in the middle of the second row from the bottom on the poster, has in its time played many parts.   Butterfly reminded me that its very first incarnation was as a replica of a replica.....

Way back in 1949, when I was just seven,  I was taken to Harrods to see their centenary display, part of which was a construction, in the Banking Hall, of a replica of the original Harrods shop.   It made a huge impression on me and it was the first use to which we put the kit.

Since that time it has been a Christmas shop, a haberdashers and finally Millie the Milliner's.   Now it was being called upon for yet another transformation.

I had racked my brains for something that I had in abundance which I could use for stock and realised that in the drawers were many shells - and little stones - and fossils.  Much scrabbling in drawers and boxes, both in Small Worlds and at home, followed the thought and I was impressed by how much emerged.

I then made a wonderful discovery which is that in the world of stones, shells and fossils scale does not matter!   After all, in the real world shells range in size from minute - witness some of those in my collection - to pretty large!  

And as for stones - well they go from pea gravel to giant rocks.  I have tiny fossils in the collection - in fact father in the Victorian Walmer house has a cabinet full in his study - but I also have a clear recollection of my Dutch friend Irmel - the one who thatched the large cottage - getting up at dawn in Whitby so that she could finish excavating a giant ammonite before the tide turned and covered it up again.

This happy thought left me free to use pretty well everything I could find which meant that the shop filled up rapidly.

The first thing to do however, was to give the shop a makeover.   The golden sand covered walls and blue door and window background just happened, I wasn't really consciously thinking about it, but it turned out to be the right colour scheme.   

A charity shop bag full of dolls house items yielded up a set of shelves 

but the shells did not really show up very well against the white shelving

so I turned them dark brown with the help of some modelling paste to roughen the surface and some acrylic paint. 
(Butterfly does it better....)  

I also found a fair number of tumbled stones, as well as the raw pebbles. 

I dismantled a bracelet, a recent charity shop buy, and popped the results into a shell which had been around for years.   

Things were starting to come together nicely;  the old shop counters could be reused with a strategic poster placed to partly cover up a strange stain - and I knew that napkin ring would come in useful one day! 

More posters for one wall... 

a large agate for the wall opposite

and finally a use for the glass jar of coloured sand brought back by one of my children after a school trip to the Isle of Wight in the dim and distant past.   That's why I never throw anything away!

I realised that I was going to have to raise the little shop otherwise only the smallest children would be able to see inside so I decided to use one of the footstools which just happened to colour match the rest of the museum shelving.   But something needed to go beneath it.

 Another charity shop buy, two fishermen, had a quick change of profession and have now become shell collectors, ensuring a constant supply of stock for the shop.   Some of you may recognise the beach huts from a previous project.

Balancing the shells on the shelves was what the Czechs would term piplačka work -decidedly fiddly - but when I finally had everything in place I was quite pleased with the results.   I leave you with a series of photos of the finished product and hope that you have enjoyed this reminder of summer seaside holidays.

I was delighted when last week a boy of about ten spent a very long time examining the whole thing in the minutest detail - his mother explained that he already had a large collection of shells and fossils at home.   He confidently identified much of the stock.

I was less delighted when a little girl exclaimed with some asperity that a few of my favourite shells did not hail from the seaside at all but were clearly snail shells from my garden.....even in miniature, it pays to be accurate!

Thank you for following a further stage in this museum journey - and if you would like a video peak at Small Worlds then click on the TV Prachen picture on the right hand side of the page near the top - I'm afraid the commentary is all in Czech though......