For This Miniature-Obsessed Texas Craftsman, No Detail Is Too Small – Texas Monthly

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Our Texas Excess series celebrates the enthusiasts and collectors who travel across the state – and sometimes the world – to add to their pet collections. With obsessions ranging from Santas to salt shakers, these Texans take collecting to the extreme.

The collection
A house full of miniature replica scenes, from a child’s bedroom to a witch’s shop.
years of preparation
40+.
most valuable item
A tiny gift shop, with tiny jewelry.
Most Sentimental Article
A miniature version of a wedding cake and bouquet, given to the collector’s daughter and new son-in-law.

Anyone afflicted with the need for craftsmanship understands the magpie’s instinct to collect. Anything shiny, bubbly, cute, or eye-catching goes home with the crafter simply because it might one day come in handy.

Spring’s Sandra Matthews Manrig understands this impulse better than anyone. For more than forty years, she has collected objects as disparate as “cats and dogs and Welsh cupboards”, as well as “little statues of anything and everything”. The only requirement for his stash of supplies is that they be miniature, or capable of being shrunk down to the size needed to inhabit a manufactured world a fraction of the size of ours. Although the pieces in his collection are tiny, his passion for small-scale replicas is fierce.

Manrig’s enthusiasm for miniatures began with a general interest in craftsmanship which spanned knitting, crocheting and sewing. She pursued these interests until a craft show in St. Louis, where she discovered the artistic medium that had called her for nearly half a century. “I walked into this place and fell in love with the miniatures,” she says.

Manrig created this miniature men's clothing boutique with tiny men's suits and sock turtlenecks.
Manrig created this miniature men’s clothing boutique with tiny men’s suits and sock turtlenecks.Sandra Matthews Manrig

A woman at the show was creating tiny figurines from polymer clay and gave Manrig her first crafting lesson. Manrig enjoyed it so much that she invited the woman to a home workshop. Other shows followed. She attended rallies in Chicago and Columbia, Missouri, and later in Houston, Dallas, and Killeen, after Manrig and her husband moved to Texas in 1991. The shows gave way to miniature clubs (she is now in two, one of which meets weekly), where Manrig and his peers learn new miniature techniques and skills together.

As his community of enthusiasts grew, so did his collection, which now numbers in the thousands. It’s hard to know the exact number of tiny animals, chairs, trinkets, etc., because the figures are a) small and copious and b) organized in diorama-like displays called “chamber boxes.” Past chamber boxes include a small German carpentry workshop; a miniature men’s clothing store, featuring miniature men’s suits and turtlenecks made from socks; an exact replica of a little girl’s bedroom designed by HGTV maven Candice Olson; and an Easter scene that spins on an axis to reveal papier-mâché bunnies, wooden carrots, eggs and a garden. Because Manrig hails from England, she also sneaks in miniature posters of the Queen or the British flag in many of her designs. In the little girl’s bedroom, she hung tiny pictures of herself as a child.

The collection is largely made up of diorama-like displays called
The collection is largely made up of diorama-like displays called “chamber boxes”.Sandra Matthews Manrig

From the room where she talks to me, Manrig can see at least 26 of these boxes. In the adjacent living room, display cases filled with chamber boxes line both sides of the TV. She first says that the only room without miniatures is the bedroom, but then she remembers that there are also boxes displayed on shelves. “It more or less takes over my life. My husband says the house looks like a museum because I have so many bedroom boxes,” she says.

Like a museum, Manrig’s house hosted troops of Girl Scouts presumably marveling at the adorably tiny sets. Manrig’s 51-year-old husband also enjoys showing off his wife’s creations, especially the miniature scenes she creates inside watch dials and walnut shells. To support his hobby, he purchased the large display cases that now sit in their living room and converted a bar into display space. He also bought a laser cutter for his wife, which he uses to cut small pieces of furniture to assemble.

As a forty-year veteran of the craft – and with an official Craftsman designation from the International Guild of Miniature Craftsmen – Manrig is now a leader in his community. Once a student at that craft show of long ago, she is now a teacher, offering classes in her specialty kind of miniature flowers. Using Japanese crepe paper, hole punches and sticky glue, she can shape small pieces of tulips, irises, roses and more. At her last workshop, she taught participants how to carve bamboo into toothpicks.

And she shows no signs of losing her love of miniatures. Already, she’s planning a big show in February, when one of the clubs she’s a part of, the Texas-based Society of American Miniaturists, celebrates her birthday. Until then, she will continue to collect, create and design new scenes to replicate on a smaller scale.

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