Yes, that photo above is a miniature. When shown a picture of one of Randy Hage’s New York storefronts, most people do not realize they are looking at a miniature. Even when placed next to a picture of the real life version, it is hard to tell them apart. But these are more than just miniatures. These storefronts are Randy’s attempt to preserve a part of New York City’s history.
Randy began photographing the New York storefronts in the late 90’s for use in a future project. He was, in particular, drawn to the many mom and pop businesses that served the local neighborhoods. As the years passed, he noticed that many of them had been closed and were being replaced with more modern establishments. Randy has photographed over 575 stores in the past 15 years and since then, over 60% of those have closed. With New York’s push towards redevelopment, some of these closures were inevitable, but Randy was shocked by just how quickly these neighborhoods changed. “Shops that had served the public for 60 to 100 years were suddenly going out. One expects to see some closures when urban renewal and gentrification begin to take place, but the amount of closures in New York was stunning.”
Drawn by their layers of architectural detail, hand painted signs, color, patina, and history, he decided to preserve this quickly-disappearing part of New York history in 1/12th scale. “Through my work, I not only seek to preserve a vision of the past, but also to call attention to the loss of established and diverse neighborhoods, as urban renewal and gentrification displace the store owners and the area residents who make up the tapestry of these communities. My storefront project reflects my love for these iconic structures, as well as a passionate interest in the communities that they serve. My sculptures represent more than fading facades, they honor the very soul of the city…its people.”
Randy is a veteran miniaturist with over 35 year of experience in both the dollhouse miniature industry and that of Hollywood model making. He was first introduced to miniatures when his father bought his mother a dollhouse and teenaged Randy was asked to assemble it. His mother would decorate it, later sell it, and buy her dream dollhouse, The Visalian, which Randy would also help assemble. Randy attended UCLA and was studying to be a studio musician, but the rise of computer MIDI music caused opportunities in the field to dry up. Around the same time, his parents found out the local miniature store was for sale. Having been into miniatures for some time, they bought Doll House Lady Miniatures, located in San Gabriel, California, and Randy went into business with them. Within two years, the store was one of the top ten miniatures stores in the country by sales. Also, the store’s proximity to Hollywood meant that many clients from the film industry came into the store as well. Randy took on these requests and soon found himself making models for the film industry.
“This work fell to me to complete. No formal training. No extensive background, just on the job training. A true trial by fire. Literally…almost everything that I was making was being burned or blown up for special effects shots.”
For over ten years, Randy continued to work freelance in the film industry. Some of the productions he worked on included movies like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman starring Daryl Hannah, The Santa Clause, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and The Addams Family; television shows like Home Improvement and the miniature murderer arc on CSI; as well as projects for the Disney theme parks. However, the introduction of CGI led to special effects using fewer models, and work began to decrease. Randy changed his focus to making models for other industries and running the miniature store with his parents. Eventually, Hollywood began to realize the usefulness of models and work began to pour in again. Unfortunately, like many miniature stores around the country, his parents store began to feel the competition from online retailers. After 25 years in business, they decided to sell their inventory and close up shop.
Randy used this as an opportunity to pursue some of his own ideas and began working on his New York street scenes. “That’s the beauty of the fine art work that I am doing now. It gives me the time to fully realize the elements of a piece that are in my mind’s eye. The level of my work has changed greatly in the last few years. I did commissioned work for many years, and now I am following my own dreams. It’s amazing how liberating it can be when you are dancing to your own tune.”
The process of creating the store fronts begins with what Randy calls “Rat Runs”. He visits New York twice a year for about a week at a time. He puts together an itinerary of the buildings he wants to photograph including subway and bus routes, nearby restaurants to eat at, and bathroom locations. During his trips, he photographs around 25-30 locations and takes over 200 pictures of each storefront. He will also take the time to interview the owners about the building’s history and inform them about his project. Once he has chosen a project, he uses the photographs to extrapolate the building’s measurements, using the door as the standard measure. He crafts everything himself so that no one’s eye may be drawn by something they saw for sale in a miniature store. It is very important for him to maintain the illusion of reality. He also will sometimes use black and white photos to help draw out details of the structure that he might not have seen after looking at color photos. “These storefront structures have proven to be some of the most challenging miniature pieces that I have done. Woodworking, casting, metal etching, faux painting and many other techniques that I have acquired over the years, come into play to create these pieces.”
Extra care is taken in photographing each piece, as his goal is to have the miniature indistinguishable from the original. The building owners have been amazed with the results and really appreciated the detail that has gone into them. Randy has found that the photographs do not convey the size and scope of his pieces, so he truly enjoys when people view them firsthand.
Randy has had two solo shows at the Flower-Pepper Gallery in Pasadena, California. Both shows sold out before opening night. The proceeds from his latest show went to the Rachel Ann Hage neuro-oncology research fund benefiting Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Recently, he was invited to be part of the The Pow! Wow! show curated by the Thinkspace Gallery in Honolulu, Hawaii. It will feature one of his latest works, the Aoki’s Shave Ice in Haleiwa, Oahu. The original structure was over 90 years old and was recently torn down, but Randy has preserved it in miniature for the show. It will run from February 8th-15, 2014.
112th & Main is a LIVE Section series of articles featuring stories about where minis and the mainstream meet.