by Liz McCafferty
Joan Holst has always appreciated antiques and collectibles, but when the James Island resident received the gift of a dollhouse from her husband Jack in 1990, it was a life changing moment.
Lunch breaks at Ziegler’s ignites a new passion
Joan worked for the Southern Bell phone company in Charleston for 30 years, retiring in 1992. She fell in love with miniatures when she visited Ziegler’s Woodshed Dolls and Gifts on King Street during her lunch breaks. She became good friends with the proprietor, Catherine Ziegler. But Joan credits her husband Jack with the idea of turning her passion into a business. That was nearly 25 years ago.
Joan began selling antiques and collectibles in 1992. That same year, Catherine Ziegler died, and Joan bought the inventory of miniatures. Joan soon made connections with collectors and enthusiasts throughout the country, operating out of a small shop on Folly Beach.
By 1998 Jack and Joan Holst opened Memories Gift and Antiques Shop and Museum. The 5,000 square foot shop is the only store of its kind in the state of South Carolina.
Through word-of-mouth, features in newspapers and trade magazines, and the sheer joy of serendipity, the shop continues to impress visitors.
The closet miniaturist
In their brochure the Holsts ask a provocative question: Are you a closet miniaturist? It could be that you are and don’t even know it. On a recent visit to the Folly Road shop and museum, 11-year-old Caitlin Licari found it hard to describe. “There is just something that comes over me when I see these tiny things. I just want to imagine I can shrink down to that size.”
Caitlin is not alone. Joan says miniatures bring families together because they are powerful tools for teaching about building, engineering, and decorating. The dollhouse can be passed on to future generations who will have a greater understanding of history.
In fact, the first dollhouses, created in the 17th century, were armoire-style cabinets created to express wealth and help teach privileged children about household protocol.
A surprising variety
Beginners, enthusiasts, artisans and collectors will find a dizzying inventory of dollhouse furniture of all styles, from traditional to whimsical, accessories for every imaginable room, from lamps to food, animals of all kinds and of course, dolls. “You’ll find anything you could possibly want for a dollhouse,” Beverly Gadsden said.
Beverly has been working in the shop for seven years, and together with her colleague Pam Brooks they guide shoppers to the treasures to be found in scores of display cases.
Caitlin admired the mini beds but was intrigued by the variety of accessories. A budding artist, she likes to create stop-action videos and the tiny tea set Beverly found was just perfect. The beautiful houses with multiple floors and empty rooms were the kind of blank canvas any miniaturist would appreciate.
The art of display with roomboxes
Dollhouses aren’t the only option for displaying a collection of minis. Vignettes or scenes have been designed to fit in shadow boxes, acrylic domes and even hat boxes.
For inspiration, you have only to visit Memories’ museum where artists have created elaborate “roomboxes” which depict everything from an elegant dining room for 12 to the bedchamber of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Renowned artisans in this genre, such as Tony Jones, Brooke Tucker, and Jack Cashmere, demonstrate how imagination, skill and attention to detail can express “miniature memories.” Perhaps the most elaborate display is Cirque de Memories by Alice Zinn, which features elephants, acrobats and even a tiger tamer, all under the big top.
Size is an important consideration
Before you fall in love, experts say, consider size. For success in a well decorated room, interior designers will tell you, scale and proportion are paramount.
Many toy dollhouses are designed to to 1:18 scale (a ratio in which 18 units, i.e. inches is represented by one inch in the miniature.) Barbie’s dream house, on the other hand, is 1:6.
The most popular size for collectors is 1:12, also called one inch, meaning one inch equals one foot. It was the ratio for Queen Mary’s Dollhouse by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.
From there, the rooms and their furnishings get smaller, some as tiny as dollhouse-for-dollhouse size, where the minis are small enough to fit into the teacup of a one inch scale table setting. The smaller scale houses and roomboxes take up less space, but furnishings are often less detailed. Because the one inch size is more popular, the selection is also greater.
Take a trip to Memories Gifts and Antiques
Memories carries a wide variety of dollhouses, dollhouse furniture, accessories and supplies for the do-it-yourselfer in one inch, half inch and quarter scale.
If by some chance the world of miniatures does not pique your interest, Memories will delight you with their collection of antiques and year ’round Christmas decorations found on 32 theme decorated trees.
To see photo gallery, click here.
Memories Gifts and Antiques and the Miniature Memories Museum is located at 1670 Folly Road on James Island. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm. You can reach them at 843-795-6754.
Liz McCafferty is a Staff Photographer & Writer for the Bugle and Freelance photographer and blogger.