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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Father’s gift spurs passion for building miniatures

7/10/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Pam Lifke

Klein learned to light her creations from the owner of a miniatures store in Cuyahoga Falls. The hanging lights in this replica of a Hudson clothing store started as ping-pong balls. The miniature was a gift for the store’s owner.
Local actor Dede Klein’s first miniature was a Victorian dollhouse built from a kit she received as a Christmas present from her father. When her father died, Klein built the house as therapy while she grieved.
Klein’s first commissioned miniature was of a lake cottage. Details like the mismatched chairs and the Mexican Train dominoes game on the table were faithfully replicated.
Photos courtesy of Dede Klein
HUDSON — It started with the Christmas present she never asked for.

When Dede Klein opened her father’s Christmas gift almost 20 years ago, she was more than a little puzzled. She couldn’t think why her father chose a Victorian dollhouse kit for her.

“I thought it a very strange gift,” said Klein, a Hudson resident who frequently appears in local community theater productions. “It was nothing I had indicated I wanted.”

So she asked what made him think of it.

“He said, ‘You always loved doll houses and I thought you would really enjoy it,’” Klein said.

Still puzzled, she took it home and stowed it in the closet.

Just a few weeks later, Klein’s father unexpectedly passed away. During the grieving process, she pulled out the kit from the closet and began building the house as therapy, she said.

“It took my mind off [his passing]. I’d be up some nights until three in the morning working on it,” she said.

She became convinced her father gave her the kit knowing she would need the distraction as she grieved his loss, she said.

With that first Victorian house, Klein developed a passion for building miniatures that morphed into a cottage business.

With each project, Klein gained new skills. She befriended the owner of a Cuyahoga Falls miniatures shop who taught her to electrify her creations.

I think that gives them so much character and charm,” she said.

She learned to repurpose everyday items. Ping-pong balls became overhead hanging light fixtures and covers from the tips of caulk tubes became orange cones to accessorize a garage. Beads and bits of tiny chain have been fashioned into necklaces and bracelets for the display case of a jewelry store showroom.

Her first commission came from a friend who wanted a birthday gift for the owner of a one-room cottage near Sandusky. Klein duplicated the cottage, which frequently is used for girls’ weekends by the owner and five friends, she said.

The detailed cottage featured a favorite game — Mexican Train dominoes — on a table surrounded by six mismatched chairs and a miniaturized photograph of the friends framed and hung on a wall, replicating much loved features of the cottage, Klein said. Years later, Klein said she met the recipient, who told her how much joy the gift brings her and how it puts a smile her face when she sees it.

Her largest piece to date is the recreation of a Cleveland Heights gas station and garage owned for the past 30 years by a friend, she said. At 4 feet wide and 2-1/2-half feet deep, the “miniature” sits on a large butcher-block table, Klein said. The model features working garage doors and fluorescent lights with handcrafted gas pumps and the caulk-tube-stopper orange cones, Klein said.

Klein’s smallest creations are of single rooms, she said. She was able to marry two of her passions — miniatures and theater — in creating a Christmas gift for Nancy Cates, co-artistic director at Coach House Theatre in West Akron. Klein incorporated some of Cates’ favorite things — a book by Noel Coward and a bottle of white wine on a table — into a miniature room. Photos on the wall depict scenes from shows in which Cates directed Klein, she said. 

Each recreation starts with lots of photographs.

“I usually have to go back [to the source] to guarantee everything matches,” she said.

Building begins with a generic kit or a structure she builds from scratch with materials from Terry Lumber Supply in Peninsula or — depending on what she’s duplicating — both. Windows, doors and furnishings she can’t make herself come from a miniature supply company in Atlanta, she said.

Klein, a retired international flight attendant with American Airlines, said some of her projects — like the garage — take months to complete, since she works two days a week at a Hudson clothing store and is very involved in community theater. She completed the recreation of a Medina jewelry store in just two months to meet a deadline for the store’s 25th anniversary, but “it was a lot of long days and into the night,” Klein said.

Klein prices her projects according to the amount of time they take and the materials used. Commissions have ranged from $75 for a small “box” scene to $2,000 for large and elaborate structures, she said. But it’s not all about the money, she said.

“It’s the joy I get from it,” she said.

Klein last was seen on stage in May as Suzanne in “Don’t Dress for Dinner” in the Merriman Valley’s Weathervane Playhouse. After taking the summer off from local theater productions, Klein will appear in November in the Coach House production of “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” a two-person comedy by Richard Alfieri.

Anyone interested in commissioning a miniature from Klein can contact her at dekleinde@roadrunner.com or call 330-650-0517.

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