Miniature models on display at the museum

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Greenwood resident Jimmy Landers poses with his latest miniature house Wednesday at the Johnson County Museum of History in Franklin. The Landers and Florida resident Frank Crescente have miniature works on display in the new “Magnificent Miniatures at the Museum” exhibit. Photos by Scott Roberson | Daily newspaper

A stately 1891 home, with its wraparound veranda porch with wicker chairs, swings, and other furniture, looks inviting enough to stop and stay. Polished black and white tiles create a clean glow with the soft lighting of a tropical sunroom.

Swarovski crystals sparkle under 54 elaborate chandeliers, illuminating the grand staircase under a dome of light as it appeared on the Titanic.

The world is shrinking to a tiny level in the hands of artists Jimmy Landers and Frank Crescente. They specialize in creating unique buildings and scenes at a fraction of the actual size – the “painted ladies” of San Francisco, the 19th century general stores, the Twin Oaks library in “Gone with the Wind”.

Their work is at the center of “Magnificent Miniatures at the Museum,” which opens today at the Johnson County Museum of History.

“There is an artistic side. We want to be seen as artists, and that as works of art, rather than dollhouses, ”said Crescente. “A lot of people think of these as kits, but they’re all built from the ground up.”

Landers’ foray into the miniature world began in 2006. Long a regional director of an international environmental company, the Greenwood resident had retired and was looking for new adventures and projects to occupy his time.

His wife had a long-standing hobby of collecting dollhouses, and she asked him to create one for her. Construction was progressing slowly, but after a year it was complete and Landers moved on to their next project.

He was new to the world of miniatures and struggled to find the materials he wanted for his very specific design. One of his main philosophies was to build almost every aspect of the model himself, which contributed to the dollhouse’s slow progress.

But in December 2007, the Colonial Brandywine project was over. He entered Tom Bishop International, a showcase of miniature art from around the world, simply to show off his work.

“I had no expectations in the sale. But while I was there I sold it. I told my wife it could be more than just a hobby, ”he said.

Since then, Landers has focused on different architectural styles for 25 finished rooms. His Helmerich House was a Victorian house with a wide and airy porch, a second-story balcony, and incredibly ornate rooms with period-appropriate furnishings. The home features eight custom designed charcoal and lighted fireplaces, each set in a marble or granite hearth.

The most stunning aspect is the foyer, with its cherry wood paneling and staircase, functional chandeliers with hand-blown glass globes and a stained glass panel above.

Its two-story Linville Library features a curved metal staircase, over 4,000 mini-books on display, and a stained-glass vaulted skylight. An 1800s hardware store contains miniature bags of soil, pottery, canned goods, and everything people would have needed at the turn of the 20th century.

Details in a miniature house designed and built by Greenwood resident Jimmy Landers.  Florida-born Les Landers and Frank Crescente display miniature works in new exhibit "Magnificent Miniatures at the Museum."
Details in a miniature house designed and built by Greenwood resident Jimmy Landers. Landers and Frank Crescente, originally from Florida, exhibit miniature works in the new exhibition “Magnificent Miniatures at the Museum”.

Landers works closely with Carl Sahlberg, a specialist in the manufacture of miniature electrical components for homes. Sahlberg’s genius enables structures to have functional chandeliers, track lighting and other fixtures that add lifelike realism to the work.

Everything he does is designed in his head, Landers said.

“I don’t do any research and I don’t put anything on paper, so it doesn’t always turn out exactly the way it should. It’s just my style, ”he said.

But the Tudor House is his most recent work. Landers spent 10 months creating the oversized model, which he started in November. About 4000 real slate shingles make up the roof. The English stone forms the foundation of the house. Inside, the bedrooms are filled with incredible details and home touches.

A game room features hunting trophies on the wall and a ready-to-play pool table. Victorian-era chairs sit around a low table. A grand piano is arranged in a corner of the living room. A tiny replica of Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies”, painted by Landers’ granddaughter, hangs in a hallway.

“These are not dollhouses. I like to build realistic structures and put a lot of detail in the finishes, ”he said.

Landers became a regular at the Tom Bishop international fair, thanks to which he befriended Crescente.

Crescente had spent his career as an interior designer and architect in New Jersey. As part of his training, he had taken a course in model making, a key stage in architectural planning. He did not use this class much in his daily work, but found model making, first with railroads and then with dollhouses, to be a hobby.

When a dollhouse store opened near his home, Crescente offered to make model chandeliers for the owner as a side business. Slowly he began to do more and more miniature work, while maintaining his interior design and architectural work. That changed when he suffered a heart attack in 2012, after which he retired, leaving him much more time to make miniatures.

It focuses on history and cinema.

One scene depicts the key setting from “Somewhere in Time”, a 1980 film starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Crescente has recreated the room at the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island, Michigan, where Reeve’s character first falls in love with a historical portrayal of Seymour’s character.

Another model brings the library to life in Gone with the Wind. A grand crystal chandelier illuminates curved book shelves filled with 1,028 miniature books. A ping pong ball is wrapped in a vintage card to create a globe.

“Things have been tweaked a bit and changed for the miniature – this piece is angled; it’s not square because it gives you a deeper perspective, ”Crescente said.

The Crescente centerpiece miniature is a replica of the Titanic Grand Staircase. He worked with experts on the design of the Titanic to make it as historically accurate and realistic as possible.

Details in the first-class grand staircase created by Florida resident Frank Crescente on display at the Johnson County Museum of History in Franklin.
Details in the first-class grand staircase created by Florida resident Frank Crescente on display at the Johnson County Museum of History in Franklin.

Paintings and tapestries have been recreated. Sculptures of cherubs created by bronze expert Jim Pounder and pineapple florets are placed on the staircase as they would have appeared on the ship. Electric heaters were placed in the exact areas it would have been.

“Everything you see except the cherub, I have done it,” Crescente said.

The two friends got together to exhibit their work at the local museum. Landers had previously offered to exhibit one of his library pieces at the museum, hoping that this eye-catching piece would be an asset in attracting visitors.

People responded to the posting.

“Everyone who came in they all stopped to watch it,” said curator Emily Spuhler.

Although rotating exhibitions at the museum are planned years in advance, they have had a few openings, including this fall, to add new, interesting works. Spuhler thought about the library room, so she contacted Landers to ask if they could show a few more. Landers enthusiastically agreed, also bringing Crescente on board to add to the exhibit.

“Their two of their craftsmanship is just undeniable,” Spuhler said. “Having an entire piece of these works of art will only capture people. “

For Landers and Crescente, the motivation in making the exhibition is simply to draw attention to the art of miniatures. They also hope their unique work will help draw attention to the museum, Landers said.

“I hope the traffic to the museum will explode,” he said.

IF YOU ARE GOING TO

“Magnificent Miniatures At The Museum”

What: A new exhibit showcasing the miniature structures created by Greenwood resident Jimmy Landers and fellow artist Frank Crescente.

Where: Johnson County Museum of History, 135 N. Main St., Franklin

Opening: 6 pm-8pm today

Exhibition: During normal museum hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

No cost

Information: johnsoncountymuseum.org


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