Daily Mini Interview: Kaye Browning of the Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection

Kaye Browning of the Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection 

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Kaye Browning is Miniatures Curator of the Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection, a 3,300-square-foot gallery filled with thousands of fine art miniatures, room boxes, and 1:12-scale furnished houses located in the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center in Maysville, Kentucky. 

Geoffrey Wonnacott chess set within an actual rook carved from ebony and boxwood.

What’s your earliest memory with miniatures?

When I was ten, my girlfriend received a dollhouse as a gift. I had my own, but her house was different. It had something special, yet I didn’t quite realize what it was. I remember looking at the realism of the items. I analyzed the proportions, the materials and how everything fit together so perfectly to become a “real room.” The atmosphere was a feeling of warmth, and I felt like I was being invited across the threshold to live in the miniatures world.

You’ve been collecting miniatures for more than 40 years. How did you first get started? 

By accident, really. I was reading Tasha Tudor’s A is for Annabelle to my two daughters when I noticed that the bed and blanket on the “Q” page were the very same bed and pink and white nine-patch quilt I had as a child. I must have dwelled on it because Bill, my husband at the time, made the bed for me in 1:12-scale from a black walnut gun butt using a Dremel mini-lathe. He was not an artisan, nor did either one of us know anything about miniatures, but I was spellbound by the diminutive bed and I consider it my first miniature. But my second husband of 35 years, Louis Browning, is truly responsible for nurturing my passion. Together, we’ve traveled the world collecting pieces and I am forever grateful to have found a partner in love and life who enjoys watching me share this art form with the world.

queen chair
Only 12 of these ribbon-backed arm chairs were made by legendary miniaturist John Hodgson. He gave Number 1 to the Queen of England and Number 8 is in the KSB Miniatures Collection.

Approximate number of works in the collection today?

Thousands and thousands! We have silverwork, textiles, pottery and porcelain, furniture, jewelry, working tools and musical instruments, fine paintings, and more—all recreated in 1:12 scale (one inch to one foot).

Notable works in the collection you’d like to mention?

The cornerstone of the gallery is Spencer House, Princess Diana’s ancestral London townhouse, by Mulvany & Rogers. We have three historical buildings from my hometown of Maysville, recreated by Ashby and Jedd, which depict many of my memories growing up. And the collection includes numerous rare and one-of-a-kind individual pieces by Don Buttfield, Barry Hipwell, Denis Hillman, Pierre Mourey, and Le Chateau Interiors. I truly feel everything in the gallery is a notable work.

What is the oldest work in the collection?

One-twelfth-scale 17th century Dutch sterling silver purchased in Amsterdam at an antique show.

What is the selection process like when considering a piece to add to your collection?

egg coddler
Silver egg coddler by Stephen O’Meara.

My purchasing or commissioning of a piece depends entirely on whether or not the miniature speaks to my heart. Does it remind me of something I did as a child? Does it make my creative juices flow? Is it a piece that evokes a memory or makes me feel good, or is it so beautifully detailed and created that I could imagine it in full size in my own home? There are so many reasons why I am touched by a piece, but it is mostly feeling an instant connection to it and knowing that the right spot to use it will come along, if it has not already presented itself.

Most memorable miniature you have seen?

A beautiful petit-point rug by Phyllis Sirota that is so finely stitched it looks like it is hand-painted.

What inspires you?

English Barrister’s Office by Henry Kupjack.

Many, many things inspire me, from people, places, and things to scenery, memories, photographs, and the exquisitely executed miniatures that are art in themselves. My question is always, “How can that best be displayed so that visitors to the gallery can appreciate its beauty and detail?”

What is your favorite period of art history?

I love the Georgian period in English history—the furniture is so graceful. I am also very fond of the Tudor and Jacobean periods and the Italian Renaissance period, having lived in Naples for several years. I adore all time periods in history because each one tells a different story. I never get bored because I can recreate any structure in any time period and fill it with furniture and accessories to imagine what it would have been like to have lived during that time.

Acclaimed maritime artist John Stobart’s first paintings in miniature displayed in Robert Off’s New England Whaling Museum room box.

What advice would you give to today’s generation of miniature artisans?

Keep striving for excellence in craftsmanship and historical accuracy and understand that you are creating and promoting your pieces as an art form.

The KSB Miniatures Collection features three historic 1:12-scale buildings of Maysville. Kilgus’ was a favorite hangout for generations of the community. By Ashby & Jedd.

What advice would you give to a miniature enthusiast interested in starting their own collection of miniatures?

Be selective and buy only what your heart tells you is right for you. Sometimes, I am introduced to wonderful pieces but if they do not speak to me emotionally, then I know they’re not meant to be in my collection.

Words you live by?

My mother’s voice telling me, “To Thine Own Self Be True.”

What would you like to see replicated in miniature that you have not yet seen?

I do not think there is such a thing. I recently purchased a 1:12-scale Swiss Army knife by St. Leger with eleven working parts. It’s an amazing feat in that scale and it is perfect!

What is your hope for the field of miniatures?

That it can be truly recognized as an art form along with its full-sized counterparts, whether it be a painting, a piece of sterling silver, or a highly detailed piece of furniture.

This coverlet, roughly 6″ by 7″, was created by Suzane Herget using the age-old “tatting” method of lace making.

It’s what we try to accomplish with our social media posts—to share the craftsmanship of the art form and to challenge artisans to keep raising the bar on that craftsmanship.

What’s to come from the Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection?

In the fall, we will be unveiling a wonderful recreation by Wm. R. Robertson of the old Browning Manufacturing Company pulley shop and engineering office, which was my husband’s family business. Without giving too much away, it was inspired by the beautiful wooden pulleys made there, and the prototype of the more modern sheaves will be sitting on the drafting table in the adjoining room.

The Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection has been a four decades long labor of love that has taken Curator Kaye Browning around the globe and into the studios of the most talented miniatures artisans in the field. The KSB Collection is a 3,300-square foot gallery filled with thousands of fine art miniatures, room boxes, and 1:12-scale furnished houses. To learn more about Kaye’s mission and the collection, visit the KSB Miniatures Collection website and blog. Make sure to follow along on Instagram and Facebook!

Savage & Sons Jewelry Shoppe by Mulvany & Rogers features 1:12-scale jewelry made with real gold, silver and gemstones by Lori Ann Potts.