MODEL LIFE | Collector Gwendolyn Faye, Atlanta, Georgia

I am the oldest of four children, but since my sister did not come along for about twelve and a half years, I basically grew up as an only child. Naturally independent and adaptable, my parents could trust me to entertain myself. And I did that by drawing portraits and making construction paper towns and houses complete with furniture. As I matured, I turned to Barbie. My first one was a Julia doll.

Diahann Carroll’s TV series was the catalyst for my first collection, although I did not know to call it that. Eventually, I had over forty Barbie dolls, and they had to be outfitted from head-to-toe and surrounded by the comforts of home. My dolls had a bicycle, the Country Camper, the garden patio, the townhouse, the Friend Ship airplane and so much more. I was officially obsessed.

And that obsession carried with it very high standards for the care and feeding of my Barbies – and everyone else’s! At the age of nine, I observed the neglect and abuse that my friends heaped on their dolls, and I took it upon myself to write a manual to rectify the situation. I methodically crafted my message complete with best practices and step-by-step instructions. I wrote each one on construction paper in crayon, and I bound my first publication with staples. (As I recount this story, I realize that my handmade Barbie manual was the precursor to Free therapy!)

I started to feel very uncomfortable being seen walking down the Barbie aisle at the store. I was too old for dolls.  Once my sister arrived, and I turned thirteen, I started to feel very uncomfortable being seen walking down the Barbie aisle at the store. I was too old for dolls. With that realization, I made the very mature choice of walking away from my childish pastime.

As an adult, I found my first dollhouse miniature store some time in the late eighties in Anchorage, Alaska – the Mini Mouse. Perhaps the fact that I visited on a lunch break from work and returned teary-eyed and almost hyperventilating should have been a clue that my obsession was back. And it was back with a vengeance. Though my bank account has never been able to catch up with my insatiable craving for minis, it is safe to say that even that will not stop me from filling my life with joy in 1:12 scale.

I have always harbored a private thrill for the reactions of friends, family and strangers that I would ambush with my mini mania. It was understandable that they would just not “get it”, but whenever they took the time to simply look, they soon stopped laughing. That brings me to how Smallisimo came into being.

My business partner, Leanne Heintz, and I have worked at two different jobs together before starting our company, Glassworks Dream Boutique. At the last one, I received a hundred dollar cash bonus from our boss as a thank you for putting in some extra time. This was my chance to make the 52 mile round trip to my favorite miniature store, Miniature Designs in Lawrenceville, Georgia. I was going to spend fifty of my hundred dollars. (Do I have to tell you how that turned out?) I started by selecting a vintage kitchen table set that I had always wanted. As I wandered, I saw a finished room box and thought that maybe it was time to actually try a project instead of just buying my favorite minis with no rhyme or reason. Then, I got brave enough to select wallpaper and flooring and bead board. The folks at Miniature Designs stepped in with great advice along the way. Two hundred dollars and four hours later, the result was my Lime Dine room box. See my profile for the step-by-step pictures. Since my fiance refused to enable my mini habit, I decided to take my new treasure to work. I eventually added a framed picture of myself at about two years old standing in front of my grandmother’s house, and it was the talk of the office. Suddenly, it made the whole thing relevant to everyone.

…I was overcome by an ugly cry that made my co-workers think someone had died. Yes. Really.  And I cannot talk about my former boss or my collection without telling the story of my pod from PRD Miniatures. When I brought my Lime Dine room box to work, I forced everyone in the office to look at. I even grabbed my boss by the hand and dragged him and our marketing director down the hall to my office. I gleefully gestured for them to look, and they had the nerve to start asking questions. (Expressing interest can be dangerous.) They stood there as I rattled on about my love of minis. I told them of my favorite miniaturist, Paris Renfroe – even showed them his website. They had to see the miniature shipping container that had been on my wish list for years. Well, I did not know that once my boss left my office, he went to himself and contacted Paris to have him create a custom code so I could order the object of my desire. I got the news in an email, and when I read what had been done, I was overcome by an ugly cry that made my co-workers think someone had died. Yes. Really. Once it arrived, it was by far the best mini anything I ever owned. It would take a while to find just the right pieces to furnish it, so it remained almost empty displayed behind my desk.

Then, I found a greenhouse at Ikea for only $19.99. It looked like a potential loft space, so I made my way back to Miniature Designs to find the materials and advice I needed to build the platform for my loft bed. I went to Home Depot and figured out how to tile the floor. Now that I had tiled a floor and built a loft, I was officially a miniaturist! The greenhouse went to work with me too, and when Leanne – a decorator at heart – saw the bedding that I later made, she got hooked.

Remember my beautiful PRD pod? Well, Leanne got the bright idea that she would “surprise” me by bombing my pod. I am sure the emptiness of it was too much to resist. She searched online for everything she needed to complete her diabolical mission. That is when it all started coming together. As we both searched for miniatures, for Facebook Friends, for history, for background on artisans – me for love, her for mischief, we suffered. The more we searched, the more we found, but it was so difficult. We had to make a way to connect the dots. Well, just as I had to right the wrongs of my nine year old girlfriends with that Barbie Manual, I am now compelled to change the way mini fanatics like me get their next fix. Only this time I have a partner in crime. is a tribute to the stuff of nostalgia and dreams. My heart is overflowing with the recollection of my Barbie escapades as a girl and the excitement my new modern and contemporary dollhouse miniature collection brings me every moment of every day. Some of my new favorite miniatures are the treasures that are scaled down versions of the things that defined my development as an artist and a woman. And now, my room boxes and the houses I have yet to build are giving me permission to create the world I want to live in.

The MODEL LIFE Section feature profiles of mini fans in five categories: Admirer, Creator, Collector, Sharer, and Preserver.


2 thoughts on “MODEL LIFE | Collector Gwendolyn Faye, Atlanta, Georgia

  1. wow! Great story and intro to mini world and your new love Smallisimo! I too have the Ikea greenhouse and it is my fave room box! I tried to upload my resume in the job opportunities page but it wouldn’t accept the file ext (yes it is pdf format). Let me know if I can email my resume to you and I look forward to becoming a regular on here!

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