Building memories for others Couple create miniatures of people's homes

November 14, 1993|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Contributing Writer

From their waterfront home at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Army Col. James F. Gibson and his wife, Nancy, enjoy building memories for fellow military families who are always on the move.

Working from photographs, they cut out and paint wooden tabletop miniatures of family homes -- personalizing architectural style, color and other details right down to the name on the welcome mat, the address on the door, the flagpoles, bushes and trees in the front yard and the pets on the lawn.

"People in the military move so often and to so many diverse places," said Colonel Gibson, whose job is to cut and sand the wooden miniatures.

"This is a little tie to home, a physical reminder of where they lived and a historical review of a military career."

"Each place is very special to you because of the friends you make," Mrs. Gibson agreed. "This is a way that you can take a little bit of home with you."

It takes Colonel Gibson several hours to finish the wooden cut-outs.

He glues an enlarged photocopy of the house photograph to a length of pine that is between a half-inch and 2 inches thick and from 4 to 10 inches long. Then, using a scroll saw, he cuts around the outline of the house. Sanding, first with a belt sander and then by hand with fine sandpaper, is the final step.

With the color photograph as a guide, Mrs. Gibson then spends five or six hours and sometimes even works through the night doing the intricate decorative painting on the tiny house in a small work area in her basement.

During 26 years as a military family, the Gibsons have lived in Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Kansas and Hawaii. They started making the miniature houses three years ago when Colonel Gibson was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

They've made miniatures of several of their own houses but have always been persuaded to sell them.

And the houses have become so popular since they arrived at their newest home on the base in Harford County that they've already taken orders and sold replicas of at least 40 officers' houses.

Miniatures cost $20, but at that price, the Gibsons say, making them is more of a hobby than a business.

"The money I make I just buy more paints and brushes," said Mrs. Gibson, 45, who serves as vice president of the Aberdeen Area Officers' Wives Club and is a board member at the Aberdeen Proving Ground thrift shop. She worked for an education technician until the birth two years ago of her second child, Tyler. Her eldest son, Matt, is now 14.

"It's a labor of love," said Colonel Gibson, 50, who is director of personnel at Aberdeen Proving Ground. "I get a great deal of pleasure out of doing things with my hands. It's a tremendous outlet for me. And the response to this has been overwhelming."

The several hundred miniatures they have made are replicas of buildings scattered all over the continental U.S. as well as Alaska and Hawaii and also in Korea and Germany. Most are on military bases, although the Gibsons also do civilian homes that are not located on government property.

They've done 50 hospitals for a hospital commander to give as gifts to departing personnel, a beauty shop in Aberdeen, a lighthouse, an office building with a distinctive clock tower and a gazebo on a military post.

Although Mrs. Gibson especially enjoys painting the little houses, she and her husband make lots of other wooden collectibles from birdhouses to barnboards decorated with Uncle Sam. She also likes to paint antiques.

The whole family has gone to several craft shows to sell their work. Mrs. Gibson attends decorative painting conventions in search of creative ideas and has held painting parties and taught classes for adults and children.

And after the colonel retires, they'd like to open an antique, woodworking and craft shop, perhaps in the Darlington area. There they recently saw a historic home with several barns for sale where they could continue to build personalized wooden houses that are small but have a lot of memories packed inside.

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