GRISAMORE: Living large in the land of miniatures

February 1, 2014 

  • Lois Cherrier and Annette Catanzaro have shared a love of miniature boxes over much of their almost 40 year friendship. Video by Grant Blankenship

Lois Cherrier and Annette Catanzaro have tiny people living in small rooms under their roof.

Some moved with them from the shores of Long Island to the banks of Lake Pontchartrain to a home beneath the shade trees of Stone Edge subdivision in Macon.

For 40 years, Lois and Annette have built and collected miniature display boxes. They are like doll houses -- without the whole house. Think “rooms to go.’’

The flats are steeped in history, much of it personal because it reminds them of places and faces. Even the clothes and furniture are like turning the pages of a scrapbook.

They have them displayed on the tops of tables and the bottoms of shelves. There are miniature scales of libraries, salons, bedrooms, ice cream parlors, taverns, butcher shops and Amish wagons. The details are so rich and extraordinary, you can see the dimples on a woman’s cheeks and the suds floating in a man’s beer mug.

“It’s like art,’’ said Annette. “If I were an artist, I would be painting pictures.’’

Miniatures are the most popular hobby in the U.S. behind coins and stamp collecting. Annette has built 47 boxes and proudly displays several ribbons she won at the Long Island Fair.

A fly fisherman’s cabin is one of 19 boxes Lois has created. It was recently featured on the cover of the January issue of Miniature Collector magazine, accompanied by a six-page article.

Yes, Lois and Annette are living large in the land of miniatures.

How they landed in Macon is no small story, either.

Annette is 81 years old. Lois is 76. They have known each other since 1970. Annette was working at a bank on Long Island when Lois, a young widow with three sons, was hired as a typist through a temp agency. When bank officials took note of her speed -- 100 words a minute on an Underwood typewriter -- she was hired full time.

They became fast friends. One weekend, Annette was curious about an advertisement for a miniatures show in White Plains. It sounded interesting, so she invited Lois.

It was December, and their Christmas bonuses were burning holes in their pockets. They came. They saw. They spent.

Along the way, they discovered joy in the creativity. Building. Painting. Designing. Decorating. Soon, they were traveling to miniature shows, purchasing doll figures and furniture to scale and inventing everything else from pieces of their own imaginations.

Lois built a replica of the cold-water flat (an apartment with no hot running water) where she grew up in Queens. “Nana’s Kitchen’’ is like a taste of home.

Her fly fisherman’s cabin’ was inspired by a candid photograph she took of a fisherman at Lincoln Pond in Amherst, N.H., in 2011. It is 12 inches high, 15 inches deep and 31 inches wide, including the porch. And now, of course, it has been featured in a national magazine, so it is famous.

“With a dollhouse, you have six or seven rooms and that’s it,’’ said Lois. “But, with the boxes, you an create anything that comes to your head and build around it.’’

In 1996, Lois visited one of her sons in Louisiana and fell in love with the city of Slidell on the northeast shore of Lake Pontchartrain. “I could live here,’’ she said. She sold her house in Long Island and moved in 1997. The following year, she convinced Annette to purchase a house across the street and leave those New York winters behind.

Life was good until Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina’s 200 mph winds blew them right out of town.

Annette and Lois headed east under the mandatory evacuation. There were no motel rooms available and few restroom facilities for the thousands of travelers. It took 19 hours to make a six-hour drive to Newnan, where they were finally able to get a motel room for one night. The next morning, they weren’t sure where they were going but they knew they had to keep moving.

“We didn’t want to go to a big city like Atlanta,’’ said Lois. “We wanted to go somewhere smaller, but not too small.’’

Annette spoke up.

“Macon,’’ she said. “I’ve heard good things about Macon.’’

Looking back, her familiarity with Macon was solely based on some history she had read about the Civil War. She had never been to the heart of Georgia. She didn’t know a soul who lived there.

“Something in my head just said Macon,’’ she said. “God works in mysterious ways.’’

They were prepared to leave home for three days. They could not return for three weeks. They were overwhelmed at how people in the gracious Georgia city embraced them. Folks showed up at the motel with food, clothes and personal hygiene items.

Drivers would honk their horns when they noticed the Louisiana license plate to ask if they were Katrina evacuees. Total strangers invited them to dinner. Local restaurants offered to feed them. A woman behind them in line at Wal-Mart gave them $100.

The Slidell they returned to was not the Slidell they left. Although their homes had been spared from major damage, and the miniatures they treasured had been protected from harm, they realized it would take years for the area to recover and rebuild.

“It was like a nuclear bomb had gone off,’’ said Lois. “There were no birds or squirrels because there were no trees. It was depressing. I wanted out.’’

They could have searched for real estate and a new home in any number of places. But they never forgot how they were treated here. It made an impression. They moved to Macon, not because of the warmth of the climate but the warmth of the people.

That was eight years ago. They renovated a house, settled in and have made dear friends. They have become involved with church and hospital volunteer work. Lois is engaged to be married.

They brought their love of miniatures, with tiny windows, floors and walls filled with memories.

In Macon, they were blessed to find a door.

It was open.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com

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