What is it about miniatures? You just can’t help smiling at the sight of tiny people sitting on tiny chairs, awaiting a meal from a tiny kitchen. Is it that it’s an intimate scene or are miniatures just plain cute? Or are we awed by an artist who could make inch-tall cakes, flowers and pets that look so real — how can she be so precise at that size?
Brigitte Nagle says part of the appeal of miniatures is nostalgia, seeing a bedroom or living room tableau sparks a memory of a childhood home or possession. That rocking horse… I had one of those!
Now you can ponder the appeal of tiny people and their accessories at Nagle’s new, sun-lit shop, Miniature Works, on Route 213 in High Falls. Here she displays shelves of miniscule furniture — such as an inlaid wardrobe chest with pull-out drawers, chairs and a bed to match, a grocery store, butcher shop and living rooms of various styles.
In glass cases are an array of polymer clay characters, each unique. The ladies are elegantly dressed, for lunch or a night on the town, cigarette holder in hand. The male figures include a barber with foam on his razor about to shave his customer, a painter with his palate, a fisherman, his pole ready to pull up a catch.
Just about everything Nagle didn’t make herself comes from a large miniature collection she bought sight unseen at an estate sale. Amid the crumbling boxes were some collector’s pieces like Reuter porcelain and elaborate Asian mini-furniture and figures. In her own work, Nagle loves to make scenes that suggest a story. Why is that tiny phone off the hook? What happened in that glass house? Why is that wheelbarrow on its side? She’s also incorporated miniatures she’s made into the scenes made by others.
Apart from a water color class, Nagle is self-taught. But she always loved visual storytelling, amusing herself as a child with cutouts from Sears Roebuck catalogs for the shoe-box displays she made while accompanying her father, a bull rider, across country to rodeos.
Nagle retired as a Margaretville history teacher three years ago. With time to experiment, she realized she enjoyed miniatures and had a knack for creating them. Nagle can make almost anything out of wood, wire, polymer clay and paint and she’s just learned electric wiring. She credits YouTube videos for some of her lessons but admits she once spent five hours figuring out how to make a banana. She says, “If I can see it, I can make it.”
Her work includes commissions for clients who want to remember places where they’ve made happy memories. A woman from Vermont called a few years ago to ask Nagle to recreate in miniature the podcast studio her wife was thinking of abandoning. She sent Nagle pictures and working from those, Nagle recreated the room with the same proportions and decorations. The podcaster was so moved, she regained her passion for the podcast and is still doing it.
Since then, Nagle has had clients who were leaving their beloved homes for assisted living residences. One couple asked her to recreate the garden where they shared an evening glass of wine. For another client, she recreated a study for a literature professor who loved art. She studied the details — from the paintings on the walls to the piles of books and pens on the professor’s desk. The details matter. Another couple commissioned a scene of their now-23 year old niece reading as a child in an Adirondack chair.
With her husband George, Nagle is co-owner of The Spy restaurant just up the hill from Miniature Works. George takes the lead running The Spy and their three adult children are all entrepreneurs. At 60, Nagle is excited by the challenge of building her own business.
Some customers will find Miniature Works an inspiration and Nagle is curious to see how the shop will evolve. Nagle will be offering classes monthly and will restore childhood dollhouses and other miniatures. She sells DIY houses, ready to be furnished with customers’ own artistry or with furniture and accessories she sells, like a tiny brush and comb set and the dresser to place it on. Her prices range from a $3 surprise bag for kids to a $24 violin to furniture sold at low three figures. She matches eBay’s prices for collector’s pieces.
Miniature Works is open Wednesday to Saturday, 11-5 and Sunday 11-4.