Two Miniature Museums Worth the Midwest Road Trip

Two interesting destinations to learn about miniatures and the skill needed to create them can be found in Carmel Indiana and Kansas City Missouri. Visits to either or both of these museums will help you better appreciate the talent, patience and vision required to create this medium of art. And for a MojoTraveler, better understanding and appreciating the world around us is what travel is all about, right?

What Are Miniatures?

A violin is used as the housing for a miniature exhibit on musical instruments.One sure way to ruffle the feathers of people who appreciate the art form that is fine-scale miniatures is to suggest that it’s just a grown-up version of children’s play things.

First of all, miniatures are not meant to be played with. They are, however, a great tool to teach children (and adults) about mathematical concepts like ratio and scale, problem solving and any number of historical scenarios chosen by the artists. Miniatures are distinguished from toys simply by the precision of detail incorporated into the item.

One definition of the subject reads: “Miniatures are reality reduced to scale, usually 1:12.  A miniature should be historically correct, accurately reproducing in detail the era it depicts. The precise scale, historical accuracy, and fine craftsmanship of most miniature houses make them magical tiny renditions of the real world.”

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The Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, IN

Exterior of Miniature Museum of Carmel Indiana

The Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana began in 1993 as three women combined their personal collection. The result is an interesting combination of houses, room boxes and individual items.

Here you’ll find rooms devoted to replicas of European castles, literary characters, actual homes of the designers and of course, Hoosier sports. The tiniest of lights turn on, the smallest of quilts have been stitched by hand, and the petals of miniature flowers are as unique as those designed by Mother Nature.

Look closely and you’ll realize that there’s nothing playful about this. It’s art capturing real life, just in a more compact form.

An exhibit at the Carmel Miniature Museum in Indiana

At the Art Institute of Chicago, an entire gallery is devoted to the work of Narcissa Niblack Thorne, a miniature artist of the 1940s and 50s known for creating room boxes. Her work is highly collectible and valuable and one piece — the Thorne Bar — is in the collection in Carmel Indiana.

This small museum offers a cash award contest for art students at Carmel High School. Adults and children may sign up for several hands-on workshops.A doll house showcasing miniatures in Carmel Indiana Museum. A miniature kitchen scene

Tip: If you like little things, while you are in the Carmel area, you might enjoy a visit to the miniature train display at Mr. Muffins in Atlanta, Indiana.

World’s Largest Collection of Fine Miniatures

Kansas City Toy and Miniature MuseumThe National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City houses more than 21,000 miniatures. It is the largest collection of fine-scale miniatures in the world. The museum opened originally in 1982 featuring the collection of two local women. A renovation completed in 2015 added about 25 new houses.

The “In the Artist Studio” gallery showcases the work of two miniature artists — Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel and William Robertson — and the challenges of creating 1/12 scale items.

Looking through a magnifying glassWessel demonstrates egg tempera painting and Robertson demonstrates how to make a ½ inch tall candlestick. Pick up a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers yourself and try to put the hands on a twelve-inch tall grandfather clock. It is not as easy at it looks, believe me. I finally gave up in frustration.

An interior look at the Miniature Museum in Kansas CityTake the magnifying glass all around the collection to check out the details. Perhaps the most popular exhibit in the museum is “MicroCuriosities.” These are paintings and sculptures so tiny they can only be seen through a microscopes.

Other miniature museums can be found in Danville Kentucky, Tucson Arizona, Hickory Corners Michigan, Denver, St. Louis and cities around the world. You can find miniatures on display at The White House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian, among other distinguished repositories of fine art. Kids play things? Think again.

Starting Your Own Miniature Collection

The Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel has a tiny (get it?) shop that sells supplies to miniature artists and the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures has a fabulous gift shop that sells all sorts of items not available at your typical shopping destination. Thinking about starting your own miniature collection? Here are some items that you might need. What a cool gift for someone, male or female, hard to buy for!