Building big, giant worlds in small, miniature places

The world of human beings is not given to them. It is something they must create.

Anthropologists, such as Louise Krasniewicz, an adjunct assistant professor in the School of Arts & Sciences, live in and study diverse communities, and how and why their populations build their world, and construct it in a particular way. This concept is known as “world building.”

Krasniewicz’s research has taken her around the Earth, studying anti-nuclear protests in the 1980s, flag burning in the 1990s, Halloween rituals, and Americans living in the Panama Canal Zone.

“All of these things are contributing to this idea that people build worlds, and they try to live in these worlds and create stories in these worlds,” she says.

Another aspect of Krasniewicz’s scholarship focuses on the history of world’s fairs, which often feature mini-worlds, such as miniatures and dioramas showing scaled down replicas of a region’s culture, industries, machines, and inventions.

While researching world fairs, Krasniewicz became fascinated with miniatures, and the community that creates them.

“I’m very interested in the cross-cultural aspect of human behavior, and one thing that I found was that every culture did something with miniatures,” she says.

In 2011, Krasniewicz became a world builder herself, creating a miniature of the office and garden of Jules Verne, a 19th century science fiction writer, for the Philadelphia Flower Show. She returned for the next four years with miniatures showing her appreciation of pop culture with recreated scenes from movies such as “Harry Potter” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “The Birds.”

The miniatures, which Krasniewicz built largely from scratch, were painstakingly detailed with live plants she grew herself and electricity she personally installed.

Krasniewicz says in miniatures, scale is everything.

“Everything has to be in scale or it bothers your eye,” she says. “If you look at it and everything’s in scale, you think it’s part of the real world. If it’s out of scale, all of sudden it’s jarring.”

To make the plants the proper size, Krasniewicz restricted the amount of food and water they received.

Krasniewicz says she tries to learn and do something new each year. For the “Harry Potter” scene, which recreates Professor Sprout’s greenhouse and office and won first place at the 2013 Flower Show, she taught herself how to do laser cutting. To create the nearly 200 miniature birds for “The Birds” scene, she learned how to do 3-D printing. She says both the “Rear Window” and “Harry Potter” miniatures took a year to create.

“I like doing stories that people know and creating a physical representation of it so that people can get the sense of stepping into it,” she says.

Krasniewicz says a large amount of research goes into making a miniature. For her “Hawaiian Museum with Charlie Chan murder scene,” which won second place at the 2012 Flower Show, she researched Hawaiian culture and artifacts.

She is currently working on miniatures recreating black and white scenes from the 1920 silent horror film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” the Rick’s Cafe scene from 1942’s “Casablanca,” the 1947 version of “Beauty and the Beast,” and scenes from science fiction movies from the 1950s.

“So how does this relate to anthropology?” she asks rhetorically. “It’s the same idea of building a world. The most interesting miniatures are ones where someone has made an effort to really think about what goes into a world; what does it take to create a universe?”