What the gargantuan Gulliver saw and felt in Lilliput, Judy and Bruce Steinke experience every day in their Sandy home.
And your dollhouse-loving grandmother? She would be astonished by the fanciful landscapes, tiny furniture and the rooms within rooms within the Steinkes' living room.The couple are "miniature enthusiasts." Their hobby is taking the world as we know it, have known it or wish it could be and cutting it down to bite size (as the giant of "Jack and the Beanstalk" might put it).
"It's everything in real life, just reduced - and there are no taxes there," Bruce Steinke said.
Where other folks might have shelves crammed with books or knicknacks, the Steinkes display "room boxes." Scores of them. Rooms Thumbelina might covet. You'll find, for instance, a pioneer kitchen squeezed into a Log Cabin syrup tin, a thimble-sized Santa delivering Christmas goodies to a contemporary-looking home, or Cinderella and her pumpkins posing in front of an open storybook that would fit in the palm of your hand.
"We have a wide variety of things," said Judy Steinke. "That's why I like this stuff - all kinds of scenes and time periods and holidays."
They've created much of their collection themselves, although the Steinkes are not above buying the work of other artisans they admire. Many belong to local clubs affiliated with the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts, known by its easy-to-remember acronym, NAME. There are a half-dozen such clubs in the Salt Lake area.
In fact, the local miniaturists are sponsoring a four-day convention - or, as they call it, a "houseparty" - this week in Salt Lake City. Registered members are attending lectures and classes Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, April 26, the general public is invited to attend an exhibition and sale of "dollhouse" and "room box" furnishings, accessories and landscaping supplies at the Wyndham Hotel downtown.
Houseparties take so much preparation they're only held every few years, Bruce Steinke said. This event's theme is "The Enchanted Forest . . . Just Imagine," and so each dinner table will have as its centerpiece a fanciful scene with a castle, a pond and little trees, generously sprinkled with miniscule winged fairies and well-attired forest creatures as Beatrix Potter might have envisioned them.
They're a labor of love.
Miniaturists work in three basic sizes, the Steinkes noted. The dominant scale is a reduction of 1 inch to every foot. In other words, a kitchen cabinet as you might know it will be shrunk to one-twelfth its real size, as will the dishes and bottles on its shelves. However, a half-inch to 1 foot is catching on, and some enthusiasts prefer a quarter-inch to 1 foot - or even tinier.
Judy Steinke discovered the hobby 20 years ago or so with a girlfriend, moving from dollhouses to the variety offered by room boxes. Although he had tinkered with plastic models as a boy, her husband was shanghaied into miniatures when they wed.
"She said, `You marry me, you marry my miniatures,' " Bruce said. "I agreed they were pretty cool."
"He just jumped in with both feet," his wife added.
Which sounds pretty dangerous in this line of work.
Many of their room boxes are intricately detailed. One is a nautically themed kitchen that Bruce Steinke created during a weeklong class directed by Brooke Tucker, a renowned miniaturist. Pictures of ships decorate the walls. A seacoast is visible beyond a multipaned window. But best of all is a beautiful mosaic above the stove, which Steinke made by cutting a plate into tiny glazed tiles. A black-eyed dog in the setting seems to be appreciating all the effort.
Their specialty is teeny furniture. An upper-story room in their home has shelves that look like something drastic happened to an Ethan Allen warehouse. Tom Thumb could be the supervisor there. Arrayed in orderly rows are pianos ("with 88 keys," Bruce Steinke noted), white Adirondack rockers, perfume trays (with bottles), peddlers' carts, neon-hued Wurlitzer jukeboxes and folding screens, complete with decorative cutout scrollwork.
"It takes you away totally from work," said Steinke, a software engineer who has incorporated some of that know-how into his hobby.
"The whole idea of the National Association of Miniature Enthusaists," said Steinke, who sits on the organzation's board, "is to bring an awareness of miniatures as an art form to people. And the wonderful thing about miniatures as a hobby is it involves people from age 8 to however long they live - we have people in their 90s that still go to these houseparties.
"It spurs our imagination on. It keeps us all young," he said.