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Cheryl and Vern Ufnowski

Jeepers Miniatures

by Barney Quick

Maybe it’s a way to try on different lifestyles without giving up the one you really have, or maybe it stems from the desire to create a fictional scenario, the way a playwright or novelist does. In any event, the world of dollhouses and miniatures brings pure imagination and painstaking craft together like no other hobby. It also fills Jeepers Miniatures on South Jefferson Street in Nashville with passionate collectors and builders, talking shop and signing up for classes.

Jeepers Miniatures is owned by Cheryl and Vernon Ufnowski, who developed a love affair with Brown County (and miniatures) years ago and moved here from Chicago earlier this decade. “We’d been coming down here for years and renting cabins,” says Vernon.

“Growing up in Chicago, I often went to the Museum of Science and Industry to see the Fairy Castle,” says Cheryl. That exhibit is perhaps the most elaborate miniature construct in the world. It was commissioned by the silent-film actress Colleen Moore and features a ballroom and grand banquet hall and ornate furnishings.

During the Chicago years of their marriage, the Ufnowskis took classes together in such art forms as oil painting and pottery. “I’d get frustrated,” says Vernon. “She’d take it a step beyond what the ordinary student was doing. She’s great.”

Their store is a well-known hub of networking and education among miniatures enthusiasts. Bill Lankford, an internationally recognized craftsman, conducted a class for Jeepers patrons. The store carries works by California-based Brooke Tucker, another big name in the field. Some area people who are represented there are Emma Holiday of Richmond, Indiana, who has a line of flowers in vases; Althea Merback of Bloomington, who will be conducting a class in knitting in miniature on May 26; and Jane Graber of Brown County, who makes miniature pottery.

Other classes occasionally offered by the Ufnowskis include bed-dressing, installing electrical wiring in dollhouses, doll-dressing, doll-making (at which one learns how to make hands detailed enough to show veins), and miniature stained glass.

Customers can buy assembled dollhouses, kits, or the materials to make one from scratch. “We have everything any home improvement store has, only in miniature,” says Vernon. He notes that Indiana University architecture students “come to us for supplies they can’t find anywhere else for model-scale projects.”

Jeepers devotees not only like to build and furnish entire houses, but also to make individual rooms that fit in bookshelf corners of their full-scale homes. The front window of the store sports a miniature laundry room, complete with washer, dryer, and a basket of clothes, in a hollowed-out detergent bottle.

Other kinds of buildings besides houses are also popular, particularly general stores. The Ufnowskis note that people often prefer particular brands of merchandise with which to stock their tiny establishments. They keep an eye out for particular brands that they may not have on hand.

The cases at Jeepers Miniatures, displaying over 20,000 items, are an endless source of fascination. One can find intricately detailed tools, guns, cowboy hats, shopping bags, dartboards, toys. A plate containing a pile of French fries and an open-faced hamburger sandwich boasts a carefully ringed slice of red onion. Need a laptop computer for the rolltop desk in your miniature study, or maybe gold-plated bathroom fixtures? The Ufnowskis have it.

They have sponsored a club for preteen aspiring miniatures craftspeople called Jeepers Creepers. That group participated in a show in Indianapolis last year with a project called “A Moment in Time.”

The miniature life isn’t he kind of avocation that people can take or leave. Cheryl observes that once someone has moved beyond casual delight, he or she enters the passion phase and stays there. “I have one lady who comes in and says,’I need a fix,’” she says. “Some people stay nearly all day.”

Jeepers Miniatures is located at 45 South Jefferson Street. The store’s phone number is (812) 988-6667, and its website address is <www.jeepersminiatures.com>.

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