Whether it’s made of gingerbread, covered with make-believe moss or fit and pegged using the same techniques employed in ancient times, any structure Teresa Layman creates immediately becomes a home. I have three buildings by the Connecticut artisan: a hobbit house called Pippin Lodge, a Gingerbread Kitchen and a barn and stable for the Nativity Scene and her detail in each structure is amazing. Teresa, of course, is known for many other talents: incredible miniature needlework, specifically French knot rugs (for which she received her IGMA Fellow) and the creation of real gingerbread houses—writing two books on the subject and having her pieces featured on U.S. postage stamps. But this time of year, especially, I am drawn to the craftsmanship and creative glory of the Gingerbread Kitchen, which is one of the collection’s most popular holiday exhibits. It’s featured on a revolving platform at the entrance to the gallery so visitors can view it inside and out from all angles and it always draws a crowd—me included!
Teresa describes the Gingerbread Kitchen as a place at the North Pole where elves spend their day making gingerbread houses for Christmas. The darling child-like elves were created specifically for this piece by Jane Davies and they are perfect for the setting. One of my favorite parts of the house is the moon face embedded in the outside chimney, a piece that Teresa had from her childhood, which makes it very dear to me. I also love the sleeping quarters on the second floor with the elves’ shoes neatly placed at the foot of each bed. The warmth of the kitchen contrasted by the snowy outdoors surrounding the house creates Christmas magic, for sure.
I’m also enchanted by knowing that Teresa completed the exterior walls of the Gingerbread Kitchen by rubbing real cinnamon on them. She hand cut each shingle personally and also hand painted the charming interior border. She puts so much of herself into each piece she creates and, like the moon face, always adds something personal from her heart. Often, it is a treasured item she’s found along the way and kept until she found the perfect home. The pewter “Welcome” sign over the door was created in part from a 1920s pin Teresa had in her collection. The filigree trim on the rooftop was originally part of vintage tray. In Pippin Lodge, she added a plaque and a purse she has cherished since her youth.
Teresa told Martha Puff in a 2011 article for Dollhouse Miniatures that she created the Gingerbread Kitchen for “the sole purpose of enchanting the viewer.” She has done that many times over. When we are decorating for Christmas at the gallery, we marvel every time it emerges from storage. Other artisans who contributed to this piece are Ken Byers of Shaker Works West, Jane Graber, Ray Storey, Edward Norton, Karen Markland, Maureen Thomas, Lola Originals, Carl Bronsdon, David Krupick, Jason Getzan, Pierre Wallack, Lara Copper, Annie Willis, Amanda Skinner, Al Chandronnait, Taller Targioni, Sir Thomas Thumb, Wendy Francisco and Scott Hughes.
Another very special holiday exhibit that Teresa helped to create is the Nativity Scene, based on Caravaggio’s painting Adoration of the Shepherds. I actually was inspired to commission it after I saw a medieval bakery that she had displayed at the Chicago International Miniatures Show in 2012. I knew Teresa’s talent and imagination would combine to create a magnificently real stable. The completed exhibit which includes James Carrington’s dolls and Kerri Pajutee’s animals is breathtaking and emotionally moving.
Teresa spent hours weathering materials for the stable to give it the authenticity it deserved. In fact, she built it in the same way a barn would have been built—beginning with the beams and stone walls. She fit and pegged all the beams as builders would have done at the time and used two different thatching materials on the roof. Both were sewn on in bundles, “just like the real thing,” she told me. Other details include a miniscule spider web in the corner of the barn. Teresa used a lace-making technique and fine silver thread to create the detailed item.
I could write an entire book on the many talents of Teresa Layman, but I hope you will visit her website yourself to see her creations and to learn more about how she became involved in the amazing world of miniatures. Be sure to read her account of how her gingerbread houses were made into a U.S. postage stamp and take a few minutes to study the piece she created solely for herself as an artist, one she says she will never duplicate. Reading about her creation of it and her emotional attachment to it will strike a chord in all miniaturists.
Have a wonderful holiday season!