Daily Mini Exclusive: The Book of Mini: Inside the Big World of Tiny Things Available Now!

The Book of Mini, Now in Bookstores, Features Hundreds of Miniatures from Makers, Collectors, and Museums from Around the World

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After more than 2 decades of collecting miniatures from around the world and 6 incredible years of Instagramming extraordinary and unique miniatures on @dailymini Instagram, I’m proud, thrilled, honored, and absolutely overjoyed to share with you: The Book of Mini: Inside the Big World of Tiny Things, published by Hachette Book Group’s imprint Black Dog & Leventhal on April 16, 2019.


From teeny burgers and miniscule Chanel handbags to furniture and home décor no larger than a quarter, this mind-blowing collection of squeal-worthy miniatures features more than 250 of the tiniest creations from all over the world. It was all made possible through amazing collaboration and partnership with hundreds of miniaturists, collectors, and museums from around the world. Thank you, all you miniacs, for making this project possible!


In The Book of Mini, I give readers an inside look (a.k.a. zoom) into the world of miniatures, where anything you dream up is possible. If you can dream it, chances are, you can make it in miniature. With never-before-seen work and chapters on tiny food, diminutive wildlife, petite pottery, top secret surprises, and so much more, I’ve poured every ounce of my love for miniatures and this mini world into this project. Also included are interviews with collectors and artists exploring their methods, influences, and how they came to adore everything mini. Don’t want to wait? Check out the latest interviews with miniature makers, collectors, and enthusiasts here. And stay tuned for all the exclusive content coming this month.


Beginning April 16, 2019, if you share a photo of The Book of Mini in your home, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a mini from my collection! Stay tuned for ways to enter, and make sure to use #bookofmini when you do!


Featuring hundreds of photographs and a collectible miniature book, The Book of Mini hit bookstores on April 16, 2019. Here’s where to get your copy:

Follow along on @dailymini Instagram and @dailymini Facebook (OK, even @thedailymini Twitter, too!) for many more surprises, giveaways, exclusives, and of course — a mini a day (and sometimes two!)


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Daily Mini Feature: Hobby Builders Supply/miniatures.com Announces Creatin’ Contest Winners

This Just In: Creatin’ Contest Winners Announced

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Hobby Builders Supply/miniatures.com recently announced the winners from its 25th Annual Creatin’ Contest.  The recently completed contest centered around the Three Gables House Kit, with nearly 100 entrants from more than 30 states and more than 50% first time entrants.

Want to win $1,000 to miniatures.com?
Enter the next Creatin’ Contest!

Sheila Lester – Grand Prize Winner

Grand prize winner is Sheila Lester of Denton, Texas with her creation, The Wicked Queen’s Retirement Cottage. Says Sheila, “I loved the cottage look and how easily it lent itself to different styles, and I fell in love with the idea of a Tudor era cottage that had been ‘improved upon’ over the years. I was so passionate about the whole project and learned so much. I love how the exterior looks — the stone, wood and plaster, and then the brick tower — and I really love the stillroom/laboratory.”

Karen Hritz – First Place Winner

Sheila put a lot of thought and research into the whole house so it would be as historically accurate as possible. “You’ll be amazed at how much you learn about architecture, history and all the different methods of building a house, miniature or life size. The project was something I absolutely loved from start to finish and just looking at it makes me happy. There is a whole world of wonderful supportive miniaturists out there who love to share their knowledge and work. I would never have had the nerve to create this house if it wasn’t for all of them, and my husband, cheering me on.”


First place winner is Karen Hritz of Stone Mountain, Georgia with her Crafter’s Retreat. According to Karen, “When I saw the kit for 2018, my first thought was I need a real one of those in my back yard! What crafter wouldn’t want a space dedicated to working on projects? I would, and so would my mini-me! It accommodates both of my favorite hobbies – quilting and dollhouses! My favorite parts of my Crafter’s Retreat are the screen porch with a wicker porch swing and the ‘stash cabinet’ that holds quilting fabrics.”

Sarah Santosa – Second Place Winner

Second place goes to Sarah Santosa of Clinton, Washington with The Little Yoga Studio. Sarah is a first-time entrant to the Creatin’ Contest. “I have been tracking the contest for years now, and finally got up the courage to enter. I have loved minis my whole life, but haven’t always given myself the space or time to really create with them until now. I was excited that this kit had the bones of some traditional architecture. I love crafting mini architectural details, and this offered me a great canvas for that. I am really happy with the yoga studio room, and wish I could attend a class there! It was a hard space to find products for, so my friend 3-D printed the weights for me. This is a unique hobby that I have been shy about in the past, but is so rewarding and an incredible creative outlet.”

Third place is by Bonnie Cross of Union City, Pennsylvania with her project, My Minka. “I am so over the moon excited!” This year’s kit had roof lines that lent themselves easily for the curvature of the standard Japanese roof. “The whole interior of My Minka is what I like best about my project. Although the roof comes in a close second, and I love the complete project. My advice to hobbyists is when deciding your next project to build, consider what is unique and unusual. But it is also important to love your idea and pay attention to every detail.”

Bonnie Cross – Third Place Winner

There were also six first time entry winners and eight honorable mention winners.

The new 2019 Creatin’ Contest (and 26th Annual) features the Serendipity Shed Kit. Entries are due by December 16, 2019 and you can order the kit online here. The grand prize is a $1,000 HBS/miniatures.com gift certificate. Gift certificates will be awarded ($500, $300, $200 for first place, second and third), plus up to $1,000 in gift certificates divided among the top first-time entrants. All entrants receive a thank you prize. For details on the 2019 contest, visit miniatures.com/Creatin-Contest.aspx today.

Founded in 1975, Hobby Builders Supply/miniatures.com is a manufacturer and wholesaler of quality dollhouse components. Houseworks Ltd. has manufactured and provided quality dollhouse components to thousands of dealers and distributors around the world. Houseworks Ltd., headquartered in Atlanta, GA, was founded in 1975 by Mickey Benamy, and remains a family-owned business. Over the years, Houseworks Ltd. has established a level of excellence in quality, design and service. Its standard has become the industry benchmark. Houseworks Ltd. sells products as Hobby Builders Supply/miniatures.com. 

Michelle Mohacsi – First-Time Entry Winner for “German Weekend Haus”
Sue Roberts – First-Time Entry Winner for “Three Gables Bookshop”
Michelle Mohacsi


Sue Roberts
Beth Morris – First-Time Entry Winner for “Tiny’s Tinies”
Michell Bryant & Lamon Small – First-Time Entry Winner for “Papa’s Cabin”

Daily Mini Feature: Gingerbread House Design Perfect for Miniature Fans

Introducing a Gingerbread House With Interlocking Panels 

| Giveaway | Website | FacebookGet Your Miniature House |

Miniature fans rejoice! There’s now an even easier way to put together your holiday gingerbread house this year. Bee International just introduced a patented Link & Lock™ design featuring interlocking panels for their gingerbread houses. It’s now possible to put together your gingerbread house frame in just 5 minutes! The interlocking pieces snuggly fit together and require minimal icing.

Each gingerbread house kit includes interlocking panels, assorted candy, and pre-mixed icing.

Want to win your own kit?
Participate in our giveaway on @dailymini Instagram!

“Most Gingerbread House kits have to be assembled hours or even the day before you can decorate them, to allow time for the icing to harden,” explains Dan Blanchard, Vice President of Marketing for Bee International. “Now, with the new Link & Lock™ interlocking panels, you can quickly put together a house and start decorating right away. What used to take hours, now takes minutes.”

Find your kit at national and regional grocery, drug, specialty, mass, discount, and even home improvement stores. Or easily purchase online from Bee Inc.

San Diego-based Bee International has been in the novelty candy business since 1970. The company designs, develops, imports, and distributes novelty candy and gift products from all over the world. For more information on the new interlocking gingerbread house kits, visit beeinc.com/christmas and follow along on Facebook. Enter to win your own gingerbread house kit here.

Daily Mini Feature: Bruce Museum Presents Downsized: Small-Scale Sculpture by Contemporary Artists Exhibition

Downsized Exhibition Opens November 3
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Frank Poor (American, b. 1962) Cotton Depot – Bishopville, SC, 2015. Basswood and digital transparencies on glass, 7 x 50 x 9 in. Courtesy of the artist and Krakow Witkin Gallery. Photo: Krakow Witkin Gallery

On Saturday, November 3, Downsized: Small-Scale Sculpture by Contemporary Artists will open to the public in the Bruce Museum’s Arcade gallery. The exhibition will be on view through January 27, 2019.

A continuing tradition for over 35 years, this miniature exhibition will feature models, dioramas, and more—exploring interior and exterior architecture in a range of scales.

The sculptures encourage observers to suspend their perception of reality and to invent their own narrative. These mixed media sculptures fascinate because of the juxtaposition of size and subject and elicit amazement at the precision of the workmanship.

“While architecture is the common denominator that unifies the show, the shared themes that thread through the work is what appealed to me about these particular artists,” says Kathy Reichenbach, Assistant to the Director and Curator of the Downsized exhibition.

On Thursday, November 8, from 6–8PM, the Bruce will host a moderated panel discussion with artists whose work is featured in Downsized, including Amy Bennett, Thomas Doyle, and Frank Poor. A reception begins at 6PM; the discussion takes place at 6:30 pm and will be followed by a Q&A session. Reservations are required at brucemuseum.org; Museum members and students with ID free; nonmembers, $15.

Downsized: Small-Scale Sculpture by Contemporary Artists is supported by a Committee of Honor co-chaired by Kathleen Metinko and Jan Rogers Kniffen, Michael Kovner and Jean Doyen de Montaillou, and Bob and Gale Lawrence, with additional support provided by The Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund and the Connecticut Office of the Arts.

The Bruce Museum is located at 1 Museum Drive in Greenwich, CT and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, and free for members and children less than five years. Individual admission is free on Tuesday. For more information on Downsized, call the Bruce Museum at 203-869-0376 or visit brucemuseum.org.

Daily Mini Feature: ABC Carpet & Home Exhibits Miniature Window Scenes

Miniature Window Displays on View in NYC
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ABC Carpet & Home at 888 Broadway in Manhattan unveiled a number of handmade miniature scenes this fall. These window display scenes are currently on view in New York, NY.

Every roombox (diorama) scene is handmade with impeccable attention to detail by the ABC Visual Department. To learn more about the project, check out the Windows of Wonder post on the Reveal blog.

The following brands are all featured, in miniature:

  • Jan Burtz
  • Fe Knits
  • Glas Italia
  • Saba
  • Herbivore
  • Rahuna Beauty
  • Elyse Graham
  • The Moon Deck
  • Pratima
  • Tata Harper
  • Tracie Martyn
  • And more!

To see the latest work on display at ABC Carpet & Home, check out Instagram.

ABC Carpet & Home sources goods that are created with sustainability and fair labor standards in mind. To learn more about the brand, visit abchome.com, check out the Reveal blog, and follow along on Instagram.



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Daily Mini Interview: Mighty Oak Brings Miniature Sets to Life for HGTV and Sherwin-Williams

Mighty Oak’s Miniature Sets for HGTV and Sherwin-Williams

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Interview with Emily Collins, Creative Director at Mighty Oak

Tell us a bit about your recent collaboration with HGTV and Sherwin-Williams.

Our team created a series of miniature rooms inspired by the 2018 Sherwin-Williams color collection. Each room was modeled to look like a contemporary living space, with details as tiny as half-inch shampoo bottles crafted by hand.

How many rooms did you create, and how are they distinct from one another?

We created 7 rooms in total. Each unique room showcases a living space, including a bathroom, kitchen, 2 living rooms, a bedroom, and a sun room. They range in style, from minimalist decor, to plant-filled lounges, rustic interiors, and even a seaside-aesthetic.

How many team members helped to bring this project to life?

Our team was made up of 11 creatives, including our producer and director, animators, fabricators, and post-production crew. We worked closely with our clients to ensure that each room represented their new color line in the way they imagined.


What was your team’s favorite room to create?

Everyone seems to have their own favorite! My personal favorite was the Minimalist Danish Living Room because it feels the most realistic. It looks life-size to me in camera before you see the hand reveal the scale.

What was the most challenging room to create?

The kitchen cabinetry was probably the most challenging to create because there were so many angles and lines to consider! The artist Sam Shumway had to delicately measure and craft each individual cabinet to make sure everything lined up properly.

The shower in the bathroom was another challenging custom build, but artist Hillary Barton did a great job. The shower door is actually functional, and could slide open and closed which was exciting to see in action.

About how many miniatures did your team create by hand? 

The team created about 70% of the pieces by hand including the couches, bed, shower, wall paintings, contemporary chair, tables, dressers, planters, and… I could go on. We’re lucky to have a skilled team that specializes in crafting miniatures, as stop-motion animation often calls for it.

Where did you source some of the miniature home décor and accessories from? 

The few pieces that we did source came from Amazon, Tiny Doll House on the Upper East Side in NYC and our very own studio. My business partner Michaela Olsen has been collecting miniature vintage dollhouse furniture for a long time that we were able to use.

We also sourced all of the wood flooring from my husband’s company, Tri-Lox, which sources sustainable lumber to create custom designs. A lot of the flooring and some of the furniture is made out of Redwood that previously was part of NYC water towers!


Did you have to use a special paintbrush to create the wall art?

We used very thin-tipped brushes!

What did you learn about miniatures along the way?

I learned that it is wise to think in 1:12 scale as much as possible, as that is the easiest size to source! I also learned that I love miniatures very much. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a contemporary scene, room, piece of furniture or plant at a tiny scale.

What did you learn about interior design through this collaboration?

I learned that when I design my future home, I will mock-up my plans first in Photoshop, as we did with these rooms. It’s a great way to plan out a space. Most retailers have photos of their furniture from various angles, so it’s possible to grab an image and resize, and angle it to fit your mock-up.

What other services does Mighty Oak offer? 

We specialize in hand-made design, crafting items out of paper, clay, wood, textiles, and even food. We primarily work in stop-motion animation, but also offer a lot of options for hand-drawn animation, illustration, and motion graphics.

Our full-time team of 7 employees with about 40 specialized subcontractors to offer services that blend art, branding, and design. This hybrid of strengths makes our work unique.


What’s next from Mighty Oak?

As we continue to create mini worlds for brands, we’re also starting to work more with TV networks like HBO and Netflix, which is really exciting! We’re also expanding our services to consumers directly, creating hand-crafted video games, .gifs, stickers, and templates that anyone can easily download and use. But you can see how we’re making all of this on our Instagram or brand new YouTube channel, where we’ll be posting behind-the-scenes videos of our process.

If any mini-makers want to collaborate — Instagram is the best place to find us!

The Mighty Oak studio is located in Red Hook, Brooklyn. They’re on the lookout for talented makers, so feel free to get in touch to learn more! Check out their latest projects on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo. And make sure to read more about their extensive project portfolio on the Mighty Oak site.


Daily Mini Interview: Miniature Sculptures by Willard Wigan

Micro Sculptures by Famed Artist Willard Wigan MBE

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How did you first get started in micro sculptures? Were you always drawn to miniatures?

camelsAt school I suffered from a learning difference. This resulted in me being criticized for not being as able as the other students. Whilst I played truant, which sadly was quite often, I submersed myself into a world of miniatures. I was fascinated by ants, not knowing where they lived. This was the catalyst to me making houses, furniture and playing objects for ants.

How has your work evolved over the years?

I have been creating micro sculptures for 50 years. My work has evolved from its very rudimentary form when I first started. Over the years, experience coupled with more advanced microscopic equipment has allowed my work to become smaller and more detailed.Hummingbird

For a time, I did carve large objects, life size out of wood, but it has always been the micro sculptures that has been my signature.

What materials do you use to make your miniature sculptures? 

Materials vary depending on the piece I am working on. But common materials are gold, glass, Kevlar, nylon and cable tie.

Describe your process.

Usually I create the sculpture, then place it into the eye of the needle, or onto the head of a pin. I work mainly with one high powered microscope, but the control comes from my hands as I work in between pulse and heart beats.

Advice for beginner artists?

Perseverance and dedication. If at first it goes wrong, which it will, keep trying.

273272_last_supper_eFINALTool you can’t live without?

I make my own tools, which vary depending on the piece I am creating. So, it’s not a matter of living without a particular tool. It’s more a case of creating and fitting each tool to create each piece of work.

Favorite work of art you own by another artist?

I don’t have any other artists’ work at my home. In fact, I do not even display my own work after creating it.

Most treasured micro sculpture you’ve created?Prince-Albert-Copy

The Last Supper, because of the time it took to create, the microscopic intricate detail in the piece, and its symbolism.

What has proven to be the most difficult sculpture to create?

Probably the Prince Albert. The necessity to ensure the horse was perfectly and equally proportioned from its head to its hooves and tail. Then, to ensure that Prince Albert was perfectly placed into the saddle with his boots into the stirrups. Whilst the completed piece might not look as difficult as some of my other creations, it was actually probably the most difficult.Coronation-Crown

Artists you look to for inspiration?

Michelangelo and Leonardo di Vinci are artists who I take inspiration from. I can take several months to create a piece. These masters could take years. Their dedication and perseverance should be an inspiration to any artist.

Why micro-sculptures? What appeals to you most about what you do?

Why, as I said before, it stems from my early childhood years. The appeal—it’s not the creating the work, because this is painstaking. The satisfaction comes when I finish a piece and then watching people’s reactions when they place their eyes for the first time over the microscope to view the work.GF02w_ARTPIECE1_Or_Gris_CloseUp_A4_RGB

Tell us a bit about your collaboration with Greubel Forsey.

Watches by the Swiss company Greubel Forsey are perhaps the most bespoke in the world. After 4 years of research and development, they have created a timepiece housing a built-in microscope to view one of my art pieces. This is all encompassed inside a fully functional Greubel Forsey timepiece. It is quite remarkable how they have achieved this.


Upcoming exhibitions or projects planned?

A documentary about my work is being shown on Channel 4 on Sunday, July 8, and I have a new exhibition starting July 6 at Broadway Museum and Art Gallery.

Further exhibitions of my work, both in the UK and overseas, are being planned for 2019. In January 2018, I was humbled to receive an honorary doctorate from The University of Warwick and am greatly looking forward to working with this world-class university on a number of exciting projects.

What other hobbies do you enjoy?Golden-Harley

To relax I listen to music, Motown being my preferred choice. As for hobbies, I enjoy combat types of sport such as boxing or UFC.

What do you want miniature fans to know about you?

I am affiliated to 3 principal charities. The Nelson Mandela Children’s charity, the Siegfried and Roy animal charity and the less know but no less important Adenium Foundation, which seeks to give children a positive start in life via personal development and education.

Willard Wigan MBE’s work in micro sculpture continues to astound after 50 years. To see more of his microscopic creations, visit his website today. You may also wish to follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Daily Mini Feature: Casper’s Miniature Nap Pillow is Just the Right Size

Casper Nap Pillow is a Mini of the Original Best-Seller 

| Nap Pillow | 

Casper recently revealed a miniature pillow that’s the perfect size for travel… a little relaxation… and well, naps.

The Casper Nap Pillow is a miniature version of the best-selling original (standard-sized) pillow, which has earned more than 2,500 five-star reviews. It’s ridiculously comfortable. And now, adorably miniature. Plus, it comes with a pillowcase and drawstring bag for on-the-go adventures and bigger travel plans.

Get your mini pillow here, and get to napping later. Because now you can finally “snooze wherever you choose.”

Check out our photoshoot with Sadie Hawkins the dog and Sadie Hawkins the miniature, created by miniature crochet extraordinaire SuAmi:

BadAss Miniatures Exhibition, Curated by D. Thomas Miniatures and dailymini, Now On View

BadAss Miniatures Exhibition Challenges Status Quo of Miniature Art 

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Now on view through July 22 at YoHo Artists Studios in Yonkers, NY, BadAss Miniatures presents emerging perspectives in the miniature arts; an exhibition of original works in miniature form contributed by over 30 artists from across the United States and abroad.

Featured works represent a novel movement that challenges the status quo in the miniature art form through the presentation of unconventional ideas and concepts and the quirky, outlandish, surprising use of miniatures.

BadAss Miniatures aims to push the envelope on the traditional (rethink the dollhouse!) with an edgy and bold attitude showcasing jaw-dropping, surprising—maybe even shocking—miniature badassery to hit the 21st century.

BadAss Miniatures:
…Causing a Little Trouble
Now on view through Sunday, July 22, 2018
The Gallery of Small Art
at D. Thomas Miniatures
YoHo Artists Studios in Yonkers, New York

Curated by founders of D. Thomas Miniatures (Darren T. Scala) and dailymini (that’s us!)

To view all BadAss Miniatures artwork on display, click here.

To shop BadAss Miniatures works available for sale, please visit dthomasfineminiatures.com.

For a list of all participating BadAss artists, see below.

Gallery hours by appointment: Wednesday and Thursday 3-7pm and Saturday 11am-7pm. Hours are subject to change, so visitors should call ahead.

For BadAss Miniatures, more than 30 artists created tiny art without boundaries. Expect to see miniatures in 1:12 scale and smaller that are: defiant, quirky, and make you slightly uncomfortable. Welcome to the disobedient dollhouse. 

D. Thomas Miniatures is a retail destination featuring artisan miniatures and top quality collectibles located in the historic Hudson Rivertown of Cold Spring, NY. A curated selection of miniatures can also be found in the museum store at The Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY. To read more about the shop’s opening in 2014, click here.

Daily Mini Interview: Miniature Architectural Scenes in Mohamad Hafez’s UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage Series with Collaborator Ahmed Badr

What’s your earliest memory with miniatures?

I was blessed to have a well-traveled childhood. I was born in Syria and grew up in Saudi Arabia. My father took us around on a lot of vacations when we were young. I think I was initially intrigued by an architectural model, but I don’t remember where it was anymore. I do remember that when we went to Disney World in Florida, I saw a miniature set there that really intrigued me. I was very young, only 8 or 9 years old.

Ever since I was a little kid, I was fascinated with miniatures. I never played or enjoyed sports, and grew up with different interests than nearly all of my peers. I used to build tons of Legos, everywhere I could, creating miniature buildings and scenes with them.

I suppose my architectural brain was already forming at that time; I always hated the big Lego blocks and preferred the smaller blocks. The bigger blocks seemed so… fake! Now, I realize, it was their scale that was too large. That was what was bugging me so much back then!

How did you first get started making miniatures?

I think my first legitimate miniature-centric experience was in college. Out of homesickness and pure nostalgia, I made my first architectural façade of my homeland, Damascus, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. I couldn’t go back to Damascus for 8 years and was stuck here, in the United States. The ‘travel ban,’ as we know it today, did in fact exist back then. Sure, it wasn’t called that, but we couldn’t go back to our home. Before the war, the country was in beautiful shape and my family would get together with one another all across the city.

So, while I was making this façade, I attempted to mimic 1,000-year-old walls. I kept painting them… over and over again. I wanted to show bricks crumbling and all the other architecture elements crumbling and aging with time. Even then, from day one as a miniature maker, whatever I did had to be realistic… otherwise it might look too kitsch.

Extremely homesick at the time, I worked for 10 hours straight on this Damascus wall. I sat down in my studio and brought along all my scrap materials from model making. Having worked on a lot of architectural models that semester, I had amassed a great deal of scrap materials including balsa wood and bass wood. Then, I decided to walk along the architectural studios and pick up all the scraps I found. Kids can be a bit wasteful in their freshman and sophomore years, so I collected everything I could find, which was a lot.

When I was done, that architectural façade belonged to old Damascus. It was almost 15 years ago now, yet I still recall the lightbulb going off in my brain: if I can’t go home, I can recreate home in miniature. And that’s where the love started.

Do you still have that first miniature scene you created?

Yes, I still have that “Old Damascus” façade (although I don’t have a good photo of it!) in my studio. I will never let go of that piece.

How did the UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage project come about? How has your experience with Syrian refugees played a role in your work with miniatures?

I am not a refugee. I am, however, Syrian, and came here the old fashioned way: on a student visa, then earned a working visa, then received a Green Card. Being Syrian, and from Damascus, I do lots of work with the Syrian crisis in an attempt to humanize the situation and help people all over the world (especially the U.S.) relate to what’s going on.

I have a few family members that became refugees in Europe. That was a game changer for my artwork in 2014. Only because, at that point, when you see your own family members in a refugee camp in Europe, you gain a completely new perspective on crisis. It hits you at a very different level when you see your own family in that situation. On that trip, I met people from 30 different nationalities in one place. And they were all refugees.

Soon after, I returned to the States very energized to make more work, amidst all the pushback from refugees at that time: calls to stop the program, risk to Homeland Security, and so on. I became very motivated to raise increased awareness that a refugee is not one flavor. It encompasses a huge category, and we can’t judge millions of people by one wide brush stroke. This is a genre of people you were told to fear; but you should make up your own mind and listen to their stories.

And so, the UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage project came about. It’s a body of work in miniature, modeled within suitcases. I model the stories (and histories) of refugees into these recently donated suitcases. The suitcases themselves either belonged to the refugees or were donated by people who follow my work and with whom my message resonates. Sometimes people held on to these suitcases for two, three, even four decades. They were holding on to them and decided to give them to me. I appreciate and treasure all of them.

Tell us more about the process and conception behind UNPACKED.

Unless you’re Native American, you’re a second or third generation immigrant in America, meaning your family came here on a boat or plane of some sort. This is a nation built on the backs of immigrants. And here we are, still grappling with xenophobia. Yesterday’s immigrants are helping to tell the story of today’s immigrants. We’re no different. And history does repeat itself. It does not take someone with a PhD to realize this; simply look back a couple clicks in our history. We are united by our differences just as much as we are by our similarities.

This body of work looks at the 10 stories of recent refugee families. Together with my collaborator, Ahmed Badr, we strive to humanize the word “refugee.” Ahmed is a former refugee from Iraq, as well as a writer, social entrepreneur, and poet. He seeks to explore the intersection between creativity, the refugee experience, and youth empowerment. Along the way, his personal mentor has become NPR’s Ari Shapiro.

In 2017, Ahmed and I exhibited our multi-media installation, which re-creates rooms, homes, buildings, and landscapes that have suffered from the ravages of war. Each suitcase is embedded with the stories (and voices) of real people—from Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria—who have escaped those same rooms and buildings to build a new life here in America.

To make this installation come to life, we sat down with each refugee family for hours. For days. We listened carefully as they described their living rooms, bedrooms, and all details from the homes they were forced to leave. I took detailed architectural notes, asking, “what color was the furniture?” and “where did you like most in your house?” and “what was your favorite room,” and so on. I fished for architectural details to better visualize the space when no photos were available (which was in most cases). Then, I’d jump back to the studio and start modeling these scenes in miniature form. At the end of my miniature making process, I embed a concealed media player into each suitcase.

During the installation, there’s a headset on the wall and you can listen to these refugees’ stories through short audio clips. There’s also a placard with more information about the family so viewers can read on and learn a little more. Some of these families went through tough hardships, but that’s not whole story. It’s just part of the story. We flip the coin and ask, “what are you doing today, now that you’re living in America?” They’re architects, engineers, doctors, teachers, pizza delivery men; each played a fundamental role in their own refugee communities. Yes, they’ve all been through hardship. But, life goes on. These refugees have invested in building a future. They give back to their host families and communities. And now they’re vibrant members of their local towns and cities. 

What UNPACKED story resonates most with you?

One that comes to mind immediately is a suitcase of Fereshteh, an Afghani girl who wears a headscarf and is thus judged two million ways in this world, sadly. I knew her for about five years here in New Haven and fostered such a great relationship with her family, spending hours at their house and them at mine. For five years I knew them, but I didn’t know a massively important part of their story until we interviewed them for this project.

Originally from Afghanistan, they lived in Iran where Afghani refugees are not allowed to attend Iranian schools. Right off the cuff, Fereshteh realized that in her own community alone, there were about 300 children not going to school because they were barred from the Irani educational system due to their citizenship status.

So at the age of 22, she established a secret (underground, and illegal) elementary school at night to teach these children the basics of Arabic, English, math, and so on. It was just her on her own doing this, with help from friends and volunteers. When I heard this, I said “why did you never tell me this before?” And she just shrugged and said, “I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Do you know the narrative that’s been drawn in the media about Afghani—especially Muslim—women wearing headscarves? There’s a story being painted in today’s world that’s so vastly different from Fereshteh’s. She came to the U.S. as a refugee (finally arriving on September 27, 2011) after the UN realized her humanitarian work with students in Iran was starting to get her in danger. She then pursued a degree in nursing school and is now a Professor of Farsi at the University of New Haven. She’s also an active translator for refugees.

Fereshteh and her husband have been here since 2011, at which time they both hit the ground running. From minimum wage jobs, to becoming adamant about getting an education, to Fereshteh finally getting into nursing school… she’s a fighter and a go-getter with a beautiful soul. It really shook me hard that I had known her for five years and didn’t know this part of her story. For her miniature installation, I imagined a basement where the teacher would sit on the floor with all the kids. And guess what: Fereshteh’s UNPACKED suitcase belonged to her mother! There’s no trademark on it, but someone in Kabul likely handmade it.

What have you been up to lately?

I’m currently exhibiting “Unsettled Nostalgia” in Loomis Chaffee‘s Sue and Eugene Mercy Jr. Gallery. The show runs through Wednesday, May 30 and features both sculpture and larger mixed-media installations. There will also be an artistic collaboration created with members of the Loomis community this year. 

What’s to come from Mohamad Hafez and the UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage project?

Ahmed and I plan to make many more suitcases to tell more and more stories of even more refugees. From all over the world: Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, Congo, and beyond.

Some of the UNPACKED suitcases are currently on display at the World Bank in Washington D.C. through July 15. After that time, I will replace these suitcases with some of my other artwork.

We’re blessed to be trusted with all of these stories. And I’ve been blessed with skills of modeling in miniature. Our goal is to touch more people through this project. Looking at art is good in itself, of course, but we want to have a meaningful impact on society. We’ve had people come to us who really want to help and that collaboration has been wonderful. We’ve put students into full scholarships to Ivy League and prep schools and have given funds to small business owners to jumpstart their lives again. I look forward to working with more community partners like universities and prep schools in the New England area.

As for me, I am looking for more opportunities to collaborate with community members to take UNPACKED on the road… to every single U.S. state. That’s right, my goal right now is to make 50 suitcases, one for each state. From there, a road trip would make sense, and it could take anywhere from up to 2 years.

I look forward to working with a wider audience, nationwide. After all, you don’t just walk into someone’s house and say “tell me your story. Rather, it’s important to invest time and grow relationships with these families. Some of what they’ve been through is unimaginable: a missing child, deceased family members, hardship after hardship. We work closely with community members, side-by-side with refugee families settled in the U.S., so that when Ahmed and I come to their city or town, some sort of relationship can be built. We interview them and strive to tell their story through our installations. We also seek to help refugees gain the spotlight for their great skills.

We’re blessed through artwork and miniatures to help families; and to have a tangible impact on improving someone’s life. Ultimately, if we can directly help them stand on their feet again, it would make the world of difference to both of us.

What’s something (most) people don’t know about you?  

I’ve never shared this with people before. My work is very three-dimensional. And it’s highly detailed. I’m really interested in empowering people that are disadvantaged or perceived as though they are disadvantaged, or those that have a disability of some sort. People are quick to judge and label people. Particularly those thought to have a disability.


As for my highly detailed work… it takes a lot of skill and a lot of focus. It takes two eyes. What the world doesn’t know about me is that I see through one eye only. My other eye is very weak. So, in a way, I am one of those people with a disability though perhaps I don’t wear it on my sleeve, like those with an evident disability or disadvantage.

So now, I am (and have been) personally committed to helping people. Whether you wear a headscarf (which is, in some ways, a label), or whether you’re an artist with a disability—both sides are very personal to me. We are very quick to judge and turn to celebrities and people under bright lights. Very rarely do we investigate people’s story and what makes people who they are. That’s what drives me. I couldn’t care less about the bright lights. I care about humans and their stories.

A Syrian artist and architect, Damascus-born Mohamad Hafez’s art reflects the political turmoil in the Middle East through the compilation of found objects, paint, and scrap metal. With four highly acclaimed exhibits under his belt, Hafez creates surrealistic Middle Eastern streetscapes that are architectural in their appearance yet politically charged in their content. His UNPACKED collaborator, Ahmed Badr is a writer, social entrepreneur, poet, and former refugee from Iraq who currently attends Wesleyan University as a Fellow at the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life.

To learn more about UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage, visit their website or follow along for updates on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. For more information on Mohamad Hafez’s art and architecture, check out his websiteFacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Image credits: Rodney Nelson and courtesy of the artist