Cindy Carter’s houses are for sale. And a few of her shops, restaurants, and even a live-in pumpkin.
They are all part of a miniature world filling a 264-square foot room in her Old Town home.
Every corner is filled with dioramas of both real life and fantasy. Three- and four-storey dollhouses sit in the centre, each room depicting everyday life from days long gone.
There’s an enchanted garden with detailed purple wisteria lining one wall and a hat store made out of hat boxes. A sewing room is housed in a cardboard box decorated to look like a Singer sewing machine. And a room full of mice sit on a log waiting for Santa’s arrival.
Every setting has an incredible amount of detail. She adds a mouse or some other animal to each one of her creations. And many of the special touches are representative of Carter’s whimsical sense of humour.
One scene depicts a man with a drink and a stogie, sitting beside a bottle labelled “viagra,” and another features an anatomically correct man soaking in a bathtub while reading a Playboy magazine. She’s quick to point out that she is an equal opportunity miniaturist, as another features an elderly woman in an outhouse reading an issue of Playgirl. For the articles, of course.
Born in Port Colborne, Carter began making miniatures about 60 years ago. It’s a hobby she learned on her own, while growing up in nearby Dain City.
She says she never enjoyed art classes while attending high school at Welland Centennial and Eastdale Secondary Schools. Home economics classes didn’t appeal to her either. She loved to sew, but didn’t like her teachers telling her to do it their way.
Carter’s mother taught her how to knit, and in her early 20s she started sewing her own clothes. When she had her two children, a boy and a girl, she often made clothes for them as well.
She attended Niagara College for social services, but didn’t finish the program. During her marriage, she moved around a lot, living for a time in Warsaw, Poland as her husband at the time worked in diplomatic services. She also lived in Guelph before moving to Niagara-
Through it all, she became a master in figuring out how to repurpose items such as discarded dairy creamer and jam containers, ice cream tubs and the plastic discs with legs that keep the top of pizza boxes from touching the pies.
Carter has a double closet in the miniatures room and another in the hallway both stuffed full of supplies. Drawers hold neatly organized swatches of material while bins are used to collect items others throw out as junk. Carter says miniaturists like her are the original recyclers.
Some recent health issues have prompted her to think about downsizing. Selling her miniatures now will mean she will have fewer items to move when the time comes.
She hasn’t sold many of her creations through the years, but has generously donated them to some animal-related charities. She once donated a doll house to Pet Valu for a raffle to support the Niagara Falls Humane Society. Another brought in $2,000 for an animal rescue organization, a cause that is near and dear to her heart.
Some of Carter’s work is sentimental. She has recreated a photo of her as a child sitting in front of her family’s Port Colborne fireplace. And there’s a gutted table clock displaying a collection of family heirlooms.
“I went to this flea market and found this clock, and it didn’t work,” she says. “I ripped out all the insides and cut out the windows on the outside. I made the grandmother clock, and a grandfather clock, and all the clocks here are made out of my mother’s old watches.”
Some of her creations she is not ready to part with. The Rainbow Bridge, for instance, is a tribute to the animal lover’s many, many pets she has cared for and lost through the years. She names them all – Mommie and Cheekie, her shepherd Maggie, her cocker spaniel Coco, and dozens more.
Caleb’s Pub is reserved for her grandson, for whom it was named. Her grandchildren, now teenagers, grew up loving the miniatures and played with them whenever they could.
“They were really good,” she recalls. “I used to have a (doll) house in the living room for them, so when they came it was right there. They knew they could come into grandma’s room, but they weren’t allowed to play with anything. This was grandma’s playroom.”
The Secrets of the Sorcerer, constructed with papier mache and styrofoam, with intricate items all hand-made except for a gargoyle and a couple of other small pieces, she’s saving for one of her dearest friends.
“He raves about this every time he comes to town,” she says. “The next time I see him I’m just going to give it to him.”
She has honed her craft alongside another her friend Linda McDermid, whom she calls a wizard with a paint brush. The two would work together, carving figures and props out of builders foam on a weekly basis. The pandemic, however, put a stop to their sessions.
The two friends bounce ideas off of each other regularly, and Carter says annual visits during non-COVID times to miniatures shows, such as one in Hamburg just outside of Buffalo, have given her a wealth of new challenges to try through the years.
After seeing her organized supply closets, it’s no surprise to learn Carter keeps a book to record an itemized list of everything that she has created. That includes the amount spent on every little piece in each display.
“I know exactly what I spent,” she laughs. “I keep good records. It has served me well over the years. Having the paperwork has prevented me from being scammed.”
She is determined to get a fair price for everything she parts with over the next little while, including the four-storey Knoxville Victorian home that depicts a 1950s-era family doing a Victorian update from that era.
The sides of the house are open to view, protected by plastic sheets which serve the added purpose of eliminating the need to dust the tiny people and props populating the rooms.
For Carter, grandma’s playroom is her refuge.
“I can come in here and get totally lost,” she tells The Local. “The world ceases to exist. I can come in here upset, and I’ll forget what I was upset about.”
Though she is committed to selling off much of her collection, one might also think, while being given a tour of her miniature museum, that maybe, just maybe, she wants a bit more room to accommodate some new ideas.
Carter welcomes inquiries from those who are serious about acquiring some of her work. She can be reached at 905-468-5063.