By Sonya Nagels | 4 May 2023

Maritime museums often hold model ships in their collections – but Hui Te Ananui a Tangaroa also holds several model baches (traditional kiwi beach cottages, also known as “cribs” in the South Island). Trilby Conway’s The Boyz Bach is a particularly striking example, featuring extraordinary attention to detail: the Italian stove-top espresso pot, the cat playing outside, and the tin can repurposed as a rainwater tank.

Conway first exhibited the bach model at Objectspace as part of an exhibition called Small Wonders in 2007 and it even comes with its own fictional backstory: Inherited from an elderly aunt, the bach is owned by a gay couple based in New York. Jon works as a lawyer and Julian is an airline pilot. Clues about the lifestyle and character of the inhabitants are evident – a Louis Vuitton weekender on the floor, togs on the line and bicycles. The Boyz Bach presents a more contemporary holiday home than the more traditional model made by Gayle and Laurie Davey currently on display in the exhibition Captains, Collectors, Friends & Adventurers.

Tāmaki-Makaurau/Auckland-born Conway became fascinated by tiny things at an early age. For her first project at age seven, she furnished a home for a family of trolls. Later creations included an antique shop, wintergarden, Miss Havisham’s wedding table, contemporary bach, New York townhouse and a haunted house, among others. She also made a dollhouse and lighthouse when her children were young.

“My big sister’s wonderful dollhouse that our uncle Keith made her, complete with a battery-activated bare bulb in each room and rather out-of-scale brass light switches, was my first love affair. I can remember the oval pale green kitchen table with red stencil as trim, plus four metal chairs also made by him. My Mother added the 1950’s My Dolly’s Kitchen range. The latter went west at some stage but I have managed to collect pieces from TM or Ebay over the years – and at great expense I might add.”

In the early days, Conway kept “bucket loads” of tiny bits and pieces around the house, knowing they could be used as a planter or a table base. But the arrival of online shopping means it’s much easier to source materials these days (and that stockpiling materials is less of a necessity).

“Websites like AliExpress cater for the small minded. And there are amazing miniaturists all over the world who sell their work online. I like to build as much as I can myself and then splash out on things I don’t have the talent to do.”

The thing she likes best about making miniatures is the fact that it takes her mind off of everyday problems.

“I love the planning stages of what I want to make; the lists of what will work and creating rough sketches of how I want it to turn out. I enjoy making things for others to discover and I like being able to lift up a roof, or open a door, and get in close to what I’m working on.”

For someone interested in lifting the lid on model-making and miniatures, Conway suggests joining “as many clubs as you can”.

“They have the knowledge of what tools you may need. They’ll have a library that you can borrow books from and group projects on the go, small workshops to do, and can usually buy or order wood. The monthly meetings give you inspiration - and loads of new friends. Join International online groups too! They may be way out of your league right now, but something for you to aim for.”

But what to call yourself? There are few technical differences between the definition of a “model” and a “miniature,” but the terms can evoke specific connotations and stereotypes. Conway prefers being referred to as a “model-maker”.

“I feel it has a slightly more serious tone than saying I make miniatures. Thankfully, tiny models have become far more mainstream and popular. I used to be lumped in with model railway men (not at all attractive to a true miniaturist).”

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