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Homey hobby: Nonagenarian delights in creating dainty dwellings

Evelyn Kaufman is shown with her most recent dollhouse project.

WORTHINGTON -- Evelyn Kaufman lives in quite tight quarters at the Sunshine Apartments senior complex in Worthington. But contained in Evelyn's small abode at the moment are three almost fully furnished houses and a barn -- examples of Evelyn's miniature hobby.

When Evelyn moved to Worthington from California a few years ago, she brought her interest in dollhouses with her.

"I worked out there, and when I quit working, I had to have something to do," she related. "My granddaughter saw one and said, 'I wish I had one of those,' and I said, 'I'll make you one.' So I did. I enjoyed it so much, I've been doing it ever since."

A native of northern Minnesota, Evelyn lived in southwest Minnesota at one time, owning and operating a store in Brewster. Then, for about 40 years, she resided in California.

"I managed a gift shop in California at my brother's hotel," she explained. "He has five or six hotels and restaurants. This one was two blocks from Disneyland, so a lot of people who go to Disneyland would stay there."

Evelyn enjoyed her time and work in the shadow of the "happiest place on earth" and regularly visited the theme park, sometimes to watch bands that stayed at the hotel perform.

Family brought Evelyn, now age 96, back to southwest Minnesota three years ago.

"My kids had moved here, and they wanted me to move here," she said. "So I finally did, and when I got settled here, they moved back to California. They didn't like the cold weather."

But inside her snug abode, the weather doesn't concern Evelyn too much, so she decided to stay put. A couple of grandchildren live in the area and attend to her needs, and she has her dollhouses to keep her busy.

The dollhouses are all assembled from kits either ordered from catalogs or sent by her daughter. When a big flat box arrives in the mail, Evelyn knows she has a new project on which to focus her attention.

All the pieces are glued together to make the basic structure, then it's up to her to decorate it and outfit the house.

"It takes about a month to complete the whole thing," she said, describing how a miniature house arises from a pile of flat wood pieces.

The assembly can get tedious, however -- especially the roof.

"I don't like the shingling," she admitted, "but it has to be done. It goes on one piece at a time, and there are about a thousand pieces. If I get too much glue on the shingles, they slide, and by the time you notice it, it's permanently glued in the wrong place.

"I was using the wrong kind of glue for a while, and the shingles would curl," she added. "I found out you couldn't use the water soluble kind of glue; you've got to use the stuff for wood, the more expensive stuff."

Decorating and furnishing each house is the fun part. Some houses are painted inside and out; others retain their natural wood finish on the outside, highlighted by painted shutters and trim.

Wallpaper sample books not only provide wall coverings, but also can be turned into rugs or other décor items. Evelyn sews curtains for the windows from bits of lace.

Since the tiny furniture pieces can get spendy, Evelyn only buys the key pieces, builds others from kits and relies on her own ingenuity to turn ordinary household items into doll-sized furnishings.

"I take containers that come with stuff in it and make tables and stuff like that," she said, adding that her family members scour garage sales for usable items, too. "I don't throw anything away; there's always something you can use it for."

Evelyn estimates that she's built 25 dollhouses so far, most going to family members -- she has 12 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren. Her latest project isn't a house -- it's a barn, built at the request of a grandson. She's already gathered a variety of miniature livestock and farm implements to outfit the structure once it's completed.

Although the barn has been a novelty, Evelyn doesn't anticipate building another one; she'd rather stick to houses because they're a lot more fun to decorate.

Using her imagination and ingenuity keeps Evelyn's mind sharp, putting the pieces together keeps her fingers nimble, and the hobby wiles away the time as she sits in her Worthington apartment and watches the snow melt outside the window.

"It keeps me busy," she said. "There's a lot I could do here in the apartment building -- playing cards, bingo -- but I'd just as soon do this."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  

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