Anybody who loves the feel of Americana is (or should be) aware of Wright Guide Miniatures. Mary Ann and Grover Ledyard have spent decades creating and perfecting pieces and scenes that portray quintessential aspects of American culture, from a TV repair shop to a dentist's office.
In Dollhouse Miniatures issue 31 (our January-February 2013 issue, which is currently being printed but is now available for our iMag subscribers and for download), Jan Stuart describes our draw to the pleasant old-timey feel of Wright Guide's general store piece and gives some notes on general stores as part of American culture. She then lets Mary Ann and Grover take over to describe their fond memories of general stores of their youth, some notes on how they created their store, and what they hope to accomplish in the future.
We didn't have room to fit all of Mary Ann's memories in the article itself, though we definitely wanted to! So here, we have the complete collection of Mary Ann's thoughts and observations of general stores of her youth--plus, we have a page of Cutouts of general store signs that Jan Stuart put together. These are 8.5" x 11" in 1:12 scale, but you can resize as you wish.
I hope you enjoy reading about Mary Ann and Grover's work as much as I did!
Mary Ann’s store memories
I have always enjoyed the old, peaceful way of life, when things were slow and easy going—when you knew the old-time grocer at Mason's Store in our town of Waldron, Mich., and he knew you. As a child, I had the chance to experience the old general stores where folks bought most of the needs for those days, and farther back in time, my Mom and Dad did, too. He drove the Model A Ford, which is the first car I remember. Yes, I was very small at the time; Mom drove us to town, as my father worked 60 miles away at the Toledo Blade newspaper and only came home on weekends.
The farm families grew most all of their foods and meats, but we did need other things from the store, which were sold from a barrel or in bulk. I have lots of fond memories of them. About five miles away, we had another, The Munson General Store. You could buy anything there, from dynamite to Native American peace pipes. In the rural countryside, the little general stores stayed in existence longer than in the city. I believe many of the glass display cabinets and shelves stayed in use because country people didn't change over to the modern way of life quite as fast. The old coffee grinder and cash register stayed for quite some time; some of the very old containers were retired to the upstairs. Then, in later years, our family was able to buy that building for our print shop, and so we acquired many of the old and unusual items, such as tea bins, biscuit boxes, wooden boot box, etc.
The General Store proprietor was made by Darla Knox (who is no longer making dolls).
The most fascinating thing I remember is the high oak ladder, which was used to reach the boxes high up on the shelf. It was made on wheels and the top side would slide down the line of shelves to get another item. Sometimes the grocer would need a long reaching device to go even higher and clamp onto the box needed. I also remember the tin ceiling squares, and some of them were real fancy. The wooden floors would creak as you walked down the aisles, but everything was neatly placed on each shelf, and the grocer or clerk always came to assist my mom with anything she might need. Most of the time, we were the only family in the store, but occasionally a neighbor or friend would come by and visit for a while right there in the store. There were two wooden benches outside the two big glass windows, where the older citizens of the town would sit in the summertime and discuss all the things happening in the little town; everyone knew everyone, so the conversation went on for most of the day. I can still hear the sound of the screen door slamming as people went in and out. It had a spring on it to pull it back and made a loud noise.
They had just about everything you needed to set up housekeeping and more. From dynamite to horseshoe nails and fresh eggs to salves. You might see Pine Tar Soap and Fels Naptha Soap for scrubbing clothes on a washboard, tacks and hammers, sewing thread, pots and pans, mouse traps and beaver traps, canning supplies…everything! They kept the milk in glass jars, there in the same case as the meat, which had big glass doors on it. They cut up huge pieces of meat and also ground their beef there in the store. My mom would buy the oilcloth by the yard for our kitchen table, from a rack like the one in our miniature store (oilcloth was similar to vinyl on a cotton mesh backing and was a durable table and shelf covering which wiped clean with a wet cloth; women sewed highchair and laundry basket covers and lined their husbands' lunchboxes with it, too).
Mary Ann gives basic construction tips for making the oil cloth you see here. It was sold by the length needed.
At our store, the pickle barrel was no longer in use, but I had seen them in other areas, such as in Amish Country. We also shopped at a very large store in Toledo, Ohio, where they sold cheese in big round chunks and had a large glass dome over it. This was an exciting time in life, to visit this huge store. I can still smell the coffee freshly ground. It seems that all the old stores had a smell of their own. It must have been those wood floors stained with food spills, or paint spills, or even just “age.” The past years of the old stores seem to still be fresh in my memory—it's too bad that we can't pass these thoughts, memories, and feelings along to the new generation. But, maybe we can, through the vignettes of years ago.
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