Miniature world in store for library visitors Whiting director melds creativity with precision

Welcome to Sharon Tanzer’s General Store. It’s only open during daylight hours. Click the photo to launch gallery. All photos by Cynthia Prairie.

By Layla Burke Hastings
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Like Jonathan Swift, Sharon Tanzer, director of Chester’s Whiting Library, has created a Lilliputian corner in her world, one that you can visit and marvel over.

Just left of the checkout desk at the library sits a surprise under glass.

It is a miniature, early 20th century country store, fully stocked with produce, canned goods and dry goods from the period, built almost entirely by Tanzer’s hands.  “The only things not built from scratch are metal pans, small garden tools and glass jars. These items came from a crafts store,” she says.

Tanzer says this miniature medium unleashes her imagination.

Fruits and vegetables, seemingly straight from the harvest, sit outside.

“I have many hobbies,” Tanzer says with a laugh, listing “paper collage, spin wool from our sheep, knit, crochet, bead, read lots, bake, sew, make candles and tie fishing flies.” And, over the last 30 years, she has been building and furnishing a 10-room dollhouse, meticulously constructing every detail by hand from the cupboards to their contents. All to scale.

“Miniatures allow you to use lots of skills of cutting and piecing many different materials in the right scale and have a lot of fun learning to see all the little found objects in your craft supplies as something else,” she says.

Lost objects are found and given new homes in her tiny scenes.

“Snaps become faucets, glass beads can be bottles, strips of paper and small twine become baskets, earring backs are doorknobs, bits of fleece are made into balls of yarn or felted into a toy sheep.”

An overhead view of the store. Pastry cases are to the left.

Tanzer’s country store came about from work on her doll house.

“The whole project grew from creating polymer food for another doll house,” says Tanzer of the 10-room mini-mansion that graces her home.

After years of working on it, “it was nearly fully furnished when I decided to put in the little details, which led to (creating) … food presentations, which led to the store,” she says.  “Since I was making Ivory Snow and mop and bucket, cakes of soap and tea trays of cookies, I thought why not make a lot of them. So there were enough things to stock some shelves.”

She began by choosing an historic time-period, settling around the 1920s.

Creator Sharon Tanzer holds a bushel basket of apples.

“Then I used internet searches to find labels and cookbooks, sewing patterns and products that would have been in a small store of that time. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos about crafting with cardstock and clay. Then put those ideas into use,” she says.

The General Store is built to a scale of 1-inch to 1-foot and modeled after photographs found online of 1920s-era country stores.

“Vintage labels from products of that era were found on-line, copied and reduced to correct size,” says Tanzer, of her attention to detail.

She adds, “Buckets, watering cans, washboard, baskets and milking cans are made from painted cards stock.”

The produce crates are made from coffee stirrers, and the counters are painted matte board.

A closeup of the bushel in hand.

“I created patterns from scraps of paper until I liked the shapes and sizes, then used card stock and threads, wire and paint for realistic details. There are wonderful websites for crafting miniatures and I was very inspired by one where all the items are paper,” says Tanzer.

Polymer clay forms the “breads and cakes, doughnuts and cookies” within the bakery cases, Tanzer says. There are blueberry scones, elaborate Napoleons, lemon squares, baking powder biscuits and jam print and peanut butter cookies, a testament to Tanzer’s love of baking, although she says her bakes aren’t as “elaborate.”

The General Store offers vintage penny candies like Allsorts, Starlite mints, candy corn, fruit slices,  gumdrops and chocolate bars. “There are old-time products like Ivory Snow washing powder,

A Kennedy half dollar, slightly over an inch in diameter, gives an indication of the scale of Tanzer’s precision work.

Gloss Starch and Fels-Naptha Soap, with brooms and mops, buckets and a washboard on display,” she says. And of course, a pickle barrel.

As with any classic country store, bolts of cloth, yarn and a thread cabinet line the shelves.

There are vintage patterns, shoes and shoe boxes all taken and scaled from photographs and transformed into a 3-D snapshot of days gone by.

“The tea kettle, shoes, hot water bottles and food are all made from polymer clay,” says Tanzer.

“Lumber available was used to build the structure. Model shops have lumber for all of us who like to make things like dioramas, doll houses, even battle scenes and train sets,” she adds.

Baked goods look delicious enough to eat.

“The door was built from scale lumber and uses really thin plexiglass, as were the windows,” Tanzer says. Tanzer created a blueprint for the store from historical photos and her imagination.

Tanzer doesn’t keep track of how much time she invests in these projects: “I really don’t measure the time, just start when the creative urge hits, and stop when the result is a happy one.”

“We love having something at the library to bring a smile, start a conversation, inspire creativity … although I did not anticipate such attention beyond our faithful patrons,” she says.

The General Store will be on display through January.  The Whiting Library, located at 117 Main St. in Chester, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

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  1. Arlene Mutschler says:

    It is a beautiful creation. Such sheer talent and creativity. I am in awe of it. Sharon, you are GOOD!!

  2. Susan Marcus says:

    Everything looks wonderful!!!