Friday, July 5

A Moment in Time

I wrote the following piece for a magazine article about some friends of mine and their wonderful business making miniature models. The story didn't get published , alas, but I post it here for your enjoyment.

Hobbyists Joanne and Tom Snyder do more than create miniature rooms and dioramas, each project is a snapshot of a moment in time. In  She Dressed in a Hurry  a bedroom with clothes scattered about and a newspaper lying on the floor with the headline “Japan Surrenders” looks as if the occupant has just left the room to greet her returning beau. In another display, I Dare You, two small children approach a run down house on Halloween where a ghostly white hand appears in the window reaching for a lowered shade.  I Dare You started as a pattern piece for a miniatures group. Joanne wanted to practice making a house look old and the Halloween theme evolved from that. 

The Snyder’s got into the miniature business as an extension of Joanne's hobby. She worked at the Santa Cruz City Museum of Natural History where Tom joined her doing repairs and refurbishing displays. In 1995 Tom’s sister Martha Snyder --then working for the Maude Kerns Art Center and the Oregon Museum Association -- suggested forming a business and “Moments in Time “ was born.
The time and place of sets done for museums, historical societies and visitor centers are determined by the client. Once the Snyder’s get the proposal, the hair pulling process of choosing the right moment and how to get it done among three strong artistic individuals offering different ideas begins.

Tom works as a carpenter, engineer and lighting designer on the projects. He figures out all the physical problems; how to make a door look realistic, how to light the piece for maximum effect and create the display to best show off the project. He also assists with buildings, vehicles and machinery. Martha uses her sculpting skills to create major land forms, realistic bodies of water, and backgrounds. Joanne expertly paints figurines to match the set. They strive for the ultimate in detail and realism. 

“If you can take a picture of the piece and fool someone into thinking it’s full size, you know you’ve done it right.” Joanne explains. 

The Snyders most notably projects has been “The Niantic” for the San Francisco Maritime Museum and “The Wild, Wild East” for the Petroleum Center in Oil City Pennsylvania. The Niantic was s ship that was dragged out of the waters of  San Francsico Bay and shored up with pilings next to a pier where it sat as a hotel. The model was done in a one quarter inch scale (1/ 48), measuring a total of four by four feet.  There are seventy little people populating the pier mid morning on an early fall day in 1850. A large crowd watches a daily auction in progress in front of the warehouse next to the Niantic. Far enough away from the legitimate business, another crowd gathers for a shell game scam set up on a large barrel.
“It’s important to have people, wherever possible, to enhance the story. “ Joanne explained.

Tom is particularly pleased with the casting of one character, the water seller. A one and a half  inch tall man with a missing arm, gets his water cart filled at an artesian well pumphouse. The figure, once an abandoned toy, will now spend the rest of his life being gazed at by visitors at the San Francisco Maritime Museum. 

In “the Wild, Wild East” the Snyders base a few characters on themselves and the names of those who helped with the project become business signs.  So a burly fellow with an apron, obviously modeled on Tom, stands outside a tavern. He watches with amazement as a pothole in the street devours yet another horse and wagon. Their friend Doug Haines, who help build the oil derricks and wagons, has a rooming house named for him. Next door Mrs. Mooney, based on Joanne, stands on the sidewalk outside her boarding house scolding brawlers in the street.  At the other end of town is “Martha’s Millinery and Dress Making” downstairs from “A. McLaughlin Signs”.

Regardless of the subject or size Snyder dioramas burst with colorful characters and intimate details that will fascinate both the miniaturists and the curious.

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