James Opher enjoys breathing new life into old miniature treasures, and his creativity is on full display in his new My Little Town – Dollhouse & Miniatures Rehab Showplace in Mechanicville.
Opher’s interest in miniatures dates back to his childhood, when he started working with model cars. “I started saving money for die-cast model cars,” he says. “I wanted a place to park the cars, so I made one out of cardboard boxes and Popsicle sticks, things I had at home.”
As a child, he made small models of houses and garages. This skill evolved into making larger models of houses and garages and eventually miniature dollhouses.
Opher, an actor who retired as Assistant Director of Cultural Arts for the City of Richmond’s Parks and Recreation Department, enjoys working with discarded or abandoned works of art, restoring them to their original luster. origin or making them “better than the original, give them a chance to shine again,” he says, noting that his collection of miniatures includes Monticello and the Carillon bell tower in Byrd Park. “A lot of miniatures have gone through three generations of a family.”
Twenty percent of Showplace items are Opher originals, and the rest are refurbished miniatures. “Some of the things I refurbished were vendor samples,” he says. “They used to make a scale model of a house so buyers could see what their house would look like.”
Miniatures are divided into sections: Mansion Way, Old Town, and Doll House Row. Each is accompanied by information about the piece.
Homes are built to scale – one inch, half inch, or quarter inch for every foot of an actual home. None of the houses on display are for sale, but Opher would eventually like to sell some of his items, hold workshops, and have a consignment area. Consultations are available for those wishing to hire Opher to refurbish their old miniatures or dollhouses.
Currently, people can come in and learn about scale modeling and also buy “things related to miniature houses, like furniture, building materials and magazines,” he says, adding that the Showplace is open. Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from morning to 6 p.m.
Opher likes to see a project from start to finish. He is also proud to hear anyone watching one of his models reminisce or comment on his work.
“It’s gratifying to see everyone enjoying it,” he says. “It’s an art. A lot of people love it, but they don’t know they love it until they see it.