52 Ancestors – #18 – Close Up on Miniatures – And How to Save Hundreds of $$$ on a LightBox!

I love it when my “worlds” collide! This week’s blog prompt for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge has provided me the perfect opportunity to combine my two favorite hobbies: Genealogy and Dollhouse Miniatures. In this post, we take a “close up” look at some my favorite pieces. I’ll also show you how to create a lightbox using stuff you probably have around the house!


Several weeks ago, I attended a seminar on “Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past.” In her presentation, Marian Burk Wood shared many tips on organizing and preserving our precious family items. Marian also stressed the importance of sharing our stories NOW. With that thought in mind, today I am sharing with you some of my favorite “mini” pieces. (Note: *Marian’s book, Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past is available on Amazon.com.)

For those of you who don’t know me, I have been collecting and making dollhouse miniatures since the late 1960s – often with my mom. Miniatures has taken a back seat as of late, so I really enjoyed my trip down memory lane today.

 The cabinet to the left is one of the few original pieces I have left from the Petite Princess line of Ideal dollhouse furniture made in 1965. Waaaaaay before the days of “printables” (things you print in mini size using a computer), I cut out “food” from coupons and pasted them in. This was one of the first “real” pieces of dollhouse furniture that my Mom bought for me.

In 2009, I co-authored a book about the furniture line with Linda Gant. We are hoping to get a second edition completed soon because… get this… Linda’s original Petite Princess store display and collection will be one of ONLY two dollhouses on exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

The table is to the left is a 1″ scale EXACT replica of the coffee table created by Isamu Noguchi in 1945. I purchased the mini version in 2002 for $25. Today, it’s worth at least $65. We have the actual table in our family – it’s currently housed at my brother’s but I know my eldest daughter wouldn’t mind if he should decide to pass it down to her someday!

The food board to the right was created in 2013 by Robin Brady-Boxwell of Crown Jewel Miniatures. The board depicts the making of deviled eggs and resides in the kitchen of my current project, the Hoarder House. The house is dedicated to my mother’s memory and contains mini versions of things she loved – like making deviled eggs for every holiday! 
I am really happy with the way this piece turned out. I used a variety of things I collected over the years to create this wall unit for the Hoarder House.
If you’d like to follow the (stalled) progress of the house visit my other blog: 

The table and lamp in the photo to the right are from Ideal’s Petite Princess furniture line. The picture of the woman is my great-grandmother, Sophie Spiegel. I think it’s cool to use family pictures you may have in various
ways. I actually didn’t even miniaturize this – it was already tiny! The small gold circles represent Hanukkah gelt – a nod to my Jewish heritage.

Now, you may think I’m a little morbid when you read the description of this lovely Quimperware pot made many years ago by Elizabeth Chambers. I prefer the adjective quirky!

I don’t know why I’m so attracted to Quimperware – I’m not even French! I purchased this piece many (more than 20) years ago and have no idea what I paid for it. I do remember “hemming and hawing” for quite a while before I finally decided to buy it so it must have cost more than the $5 – $25 I usually limited my spending to!

Oh – the morbid part? I have instructed my family, that, when I die, my wish is to be cremated and one ash put into this pot. I really love this pot!

My final favorite piece is this lovely wicker sewing table. I bought this because I always wanted one in real life. This past summer, I actually did get the real thing, thanks to my daughter, who found one at a local flea market. The mini sits in an upstairs bedroom of the Hoarder House. 


Let me preface this section by vehemently stating I AM NOT A PHOTOGRAPHER!  So, take that into consideration when you read the following (and when you judge my photos!) I often find myself needing to photograph small items,  (miniatures, family heirlooms) and taking photos with my phone just doesn’t cut it.

During my recent trip to RootsTech in Salt Lake City, I met the guys who created Shotbox. As stated on their website: ” The SHOTBOX is a self-contained, collapsible, portable, hard-shell tabletop lightbox that gives you perfect lighting every time.” I actually found out about their product during their Kickstarter campaign. Loved the product! Couldn’t justify the price for the amount of photography I do. When I saw them in Salt Lake, they were offering a special price. Hopeful, I checked it out. Nope- almost $200 – still too rich for my blood.

Since I am really just photographing items for my own use, I don’t really require perfect photos. So, I was thrilled to come across an article on the  House of Mouse website detailing how to create your own lightbox. I modified the steps for “my own needs.” (translation: for no cost!) Here they are:

Step One:
Get a box. As you can see, I used an old Banker’s Box that I had in the basement, (Full disclosure: There were books in this box. Now they’re back on a shelf!)

Step Two:
Cut the front off the box. Leave about 1-2 inches across the top to help stabilize the box.

Step Three:
Line the box with white paper, making a curve with paper in the back so it won’t show up in your background. I happened to have legal size printer paper, but any white paper will do.

Step Four:
Cover the entire inside of your box with white paper. You MUST use white paper because the white helps bounce the light around in order to help make photographs bright.

Step Five:
Use a large piece of paper for your backdrop. This will hide all the lines from the paper covering the inside. be sure the paper curves at the bottom to avoid showing a crease. I had some large easel paper which I just cut down to size. I like a white background but you can use any color you like – even fabric!

Step Six:
Arrange your lighting. The original post suggested two lamps, using 100-watt daylight bulbs. I’m sure that would give excellent results. But, I didn’t have two adjustable lamps and I didn’t want to buy bulbs. So, I moved my Ikea lamp, with a soft-white 60-watt bulb over the box. I think I got satisfactory results!

NOTE: All the photos in Part One were taken using this lightbox setup and my iPhone 6. I didn’t use a tripod, but I would suggest it if you have one! (Did you know you can use the volume button on your iPhone earbuds to activate the shutter? I learned that at RootsTech!) I used the HDR setting but NOT the live one. Also, don’t use the flash. You could use a real digital camera instead. I do have one, but my iPhone actually takes pretty good pictures

This lightbox cost me NOTHING! I did have to experiment a bit with the position of the lamp but I’m pretty happy with the results.

3 thoughts on “52 Ancestors – #18 – Close Up on Miniatures – And How to Save Hundreds of $$$ on a LightBox!

  1. Wow! Love your minis (realistic and fun) . . . and intrigued by your creative lightbox. Gotta make myself one! Thank you so much for mentioning my book and presentation.


  2. You are right… I absolutely LOVE this blog!!! Your photography is outstanding and your \”lightbox\” is a great idea. Look closer and you will see it looks very similar to our beloved Petite Princess Fantasy Room!!! We've got to finish that second edition soon….


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