MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Today's installment of our summer series on hobbies holds a magnifying glass to the tiny things in life, the people who spend their spare time creating small worlds in ships or railroads or dollhouses, complete down to the teeny-weeny food on the itty-bitty tables. NPR's Robert Smith introduces us to one New York City perfectionist, who's dedicated her life to serving up that miniature food.
ROBERT SMITH reporting:
In the beginning Carolyn Eiche created...
Ms. CAROLYN EICHE (Hobbyist): ...a pie.
SMITH: ...a tiny, one-inch dollhouse pie.
Ms. EICHE: And made it in a bottle cap, painted some light brown or tan paint over the top to get it look like a crust and put some black paint on it to make it look like the mark.
SMITH: And it was not very good.
Ms. EICHE: Didn't look like a pie at all, but for an 11-year-old, it was good enough to play with, you know.
SMITH: Now in her late 30s, Eiche still lives in the same Queens home she grew up in, or at least it looks the same from the outside. Since she was a teen-ager, Eiche has added hundreds of spare rooms, mostly the size of a shoe box. Her tiny rooms are beautiful and pure. The tableaus are lit up with tiny lamps and wee rugs and chairs in front of pint-size fireplaces.
Ms. EICHE: You create your own little world. You know, you could set up the bedroom and have in it just what you wanted, even though maybe you couldn't do it in real life, or you could set up a house exactly how you wanted to, and that's how it started.
SMITH: But even in a perfect world, you still got to eat, and that's where Carolyn Eiche gets creative. Armed with clay and tweezers and hundreds of different shades of paint, she spends her days making feasts fit for very small kings. She shows me an Italian dinner you could fit on the palm of your hand.
Ms. EICHE: And we have a platter of spaghetti, and we have two glasses of red wine to go with it.
SMITH: Now as I look at the little salad--this is a little salad bowl about the size of a nickel. And there's little cucumbers and mushrooms and carrots...
Ms. EICHE: And carrot slices and cherry tomatoes and...
SMITH: How do you know when to stop?
Ms. EICHE: (Laughs) You really don't. It's very hard because in miniature what would look natural in real life--dumping spaghetti on a platter--you have to really arrange to make it look like it's natural.
SMITH: And this is the joy of the hobby. Who knew that little shavings of a cocktail straw could look just like an onion or that sand makes a realistic Parmesan cheese? Eiche says in her real life, cooking feels like a chore, but by making it small it becomes an art.
Ms. EICHE: Because you're creating something out of nothing. It's a lump of clay. Who would think that this you could turn into doughnuts or you could turn it into hamburgers or you could turn it into whatever your imagination can come up with?
SMITH: Creating a new world out of a lump of clay. If that sounds almost mythical, it's no accident. People who create miniatures, lording over their creations, can develop a bit of a God complex.
Ms. EICHE: I think everybody who does miniatures has a very slight feeling of that; that they feel like they're the God working on things just a little bit because you can control what goes on, whereas the real world you can't always control what happens in your life.
SMITH: As the creator of this world, do you ever want to just reach in sometimes and just smash something or destroy something in there?
Ms. EICHE: Usually not because you've spent so much time working on some of these things.
SMITH: You see, Carolyn Eiche is a benevolent and a loving god. But her cat, that little devil, loves to snatch the tiny bags of fake popcorn from her carefully made scenes.
(Soundbite of cat meowing)
SMITH: The only drawback for miniature enthusiasts is that it can be an isolated hobby. That's why Eiche enjoys the company of a little David Cassidy on the stereo...
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. DAVID CASSIDY (Singer): I think I love you. Isn't that what life's...
SMITH: ...as she cranks out some clay treats.
(Soundbite of patting)
Ms. EICHE: And I'm just going to use a toothpick and enlarge the hole a little bit.
SMITH: A dab of glue and baking soda for the top.
Ms. EICHE: ...and you have a little doughnut.
SMITH: Eiche looks down at the rings through her oversized glasses and says that when she was a teen-ager, she never thought she'd still be doing this in her late 30s.
Ms. EICHE: I don't know, the teen-ager in me, I think, would have maybe thought I was a little weird, you know. Now I don't know, to be doing this when you're that old--because I expected to be married, have--well, you know, sort of my own space, not still be living in the family home. But that didn't happen. I was either going to be a computer scientist or I was going to be a schoolteacher.
SMITH: Instead Carolyn Eiche makes her living from being the Julia Child of the miniature world, whipping up food for other people's dollhouses and giving seminars on how to get the frosting just right. And then she has her own projects, enough plans and raw materials to make tiny things for the next few decades. For some creators seven days just isn't enough to finish their perfect worlds. Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.