ArtNewsThe SouthSider

Miniature Museum makes it big by thinking small

BEVO MILL – In one display, teensy people prepare for a little banquet at tiny, tiny tables set with bitsy table cloths and itty-bitty china. In another, a wee pianist sits at a micro grand piano. 

In yet another, a Lilliputian-sized bathroom complete with sink, bathtub and toilet perfect in all the details await the arrival of the Incredible Shrinking Man.

Actually, the protagonist of the 1957 movie about a man who wilts into nothing would have a whole city to hang around in at the Miniature Museum of Greater St. Louis.

You’ll find everything that’s in the big world, only smaller, at the museum at 4746 Gravois Avenue. There, right across from Das Bevo in the Bevo Mill neighborhood, you’ll find an abundance of really small dwellings – but no tiny homes. 

That suits the 200 or so members of the nonprofit as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of moving into the building, not to mention their recent “with masks” reopening after COVID-19.

“We have homes, stores, room boxes,” said Meg Dietrich, a volunteer and a member of the 13-member board of the museum. Some pieces come from estates, others from donations from various collections.

“I tend to be a collector anyway,” Dietrich said, explaining her own interest in the museum and hobby. For example, “In miniatures, I can indulge my passion for chairs, without having a whole home full of them.”

About 20 years ago, Dietrich was living in Ohio and visiting her daughter in St. Louis when she spotted the museum. She signed up to volunteer on her visits and is still greeting those who stop by. 

Dietrich has seen the ground floor opened in 2001 and the second floor in 2014. In 2015, the membership was able to pay off the mortgage of their building, which used to be a furniture store. The museum may have been closed during the pandemic, but volunteers still came in to work on displays and make other improvements. 

On a tour, Dietrich showed off all kinds of displays. 

One shows the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, known by many as the city’s Old Cathedral.

Judy King, a member, dealer and artist, created the Blue Wood Manor, a mansion that depicts various time periods.

“There’s a lot of research involved in a lot of the miniatures,” Dietrich emphasized. 

One display, called the Immaculate Deception, depicts the various ways nursery rhymes talk about children. A stork is shown bringing a baby, a girl with sugar and spice and a boy with snicks, snails and puppy dog tails.

What miniature museum would be anything without a haunted house, or Santa’s Summer Home? Don’t ask that question here, because this museum has both.

You can pose any question to volunteers such as Rocky Rosen, who was involved with the organization about three decades ago and got active again about two years ago. 

“It’s such a fantastical hobby. It’s the kind of thing that everybody loves. Not every wants to get involved or do it, but everybody loves to see it,” Rosen said. “If you dream it, you can have it.”

Rosen helps out because of her friends. “I like to keep busy,” she explained. “And it’s fun.” 

Board member Linda Gearhart was at the desk when a reporter stopped by. She joined about 20 years ago after attending an open house and was on the board within two years. 

“I’ve always loved miniatures,” Gearhart said. “I had a doll house, a little doll house as a little girl, and my sister had a wooden one. I still have the furniture that we had then, and I have a house that is like mine.”

“It’s not mine, but it’s just like it,” Gearhart added.

“And when I got into seeing the shows and stuff, I was just back in love.”

The museum is open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. The  website is miniaturemuseum.org, and the phone number is 314-832-7790. 

Admission prices are adults $7; people 62 and older, $6; ages 13-18, $6; children ages 4-12, $4; children under 4, free; members and active duty service members with ID, free. 

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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