IMAGINATION LOOMS LARGE - IN MINIATURE

Written by Janina Birtolo for Dollhouse Miniatures

Rainbow Hand’s “Theater Art” rooms are a fantasy adventure

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Perfection can be impressive – but it’s not as much fun as glitz, glitter and the unexpected. That seems to be the guiding principle for Brian and Kathy Tepper, the collaborative couple of Rainbow Hand, in their new series of “theater art” room boxes and miniatures.

But then, two years ago, Kathy decided to redecorate the guest room in the couple’s California home.

“I had started out with a Southwestern theme,” Kathy recalls, “but the more I worked on it, the more it became Moroccan-themed. When I finished, I said, ‘Why not do this in miniature?’ My husband was horrified! But I was tired of doing the same thing.”

Kathy ultimately prevailed, and the couple started by creating furniture sets containing rose-colored sofas with beaded fringe. Selling 10 sets encouraged them to try a room box of a Moroccan souk (marketplace). When that was snapped up by a big collector, the Teppers were off and running on their new venture.

“We call them ‘theater art,’” Kathy says. “Yes, they are scale, but with larger, in-your-face pieces. As in the theater, they’re made for an audience – but the audience at the back of the auditorium. There is a saying that miniatures have to be smaller and lighter, but we use dark tones and lots of gold and glitter. We’re having such fun!”

The rooms Rainbow Hand has been creating are representatives of the theater of the imagination. These are fantasy worlds, not reality, so the elements tend toward the unexpected, the lavish and the luxurious.

“We did a pirate’s cave – but this was a very elegant pirate,” Kathy says with a laugh. “On one side we had an entire mountain of jewels. That sucked up everything gold in our house! On the waterfall, we put a stack of skulls. There were bats hanging upside down. And, of course, there’s always a naughty cat getting into mischief.” mini-elephant

The Teppers have also done rooms containing a Russian snow queen (complete with lacquered sleigh), a 1930s era traveling sideshow (with tattooed lady and snake charmer), a Mardi Gras ballroom and, as counterpoint, a voodoo shack with priestess and potions. Shipwrecks seem to be a recurring theme. One has mermaids trying on clothes and hats from the sunken vessel. Another, featuring an island-marooned South Seas captain, recalls the artist Paul Gauguin.

“We probably have 50 ideas lined up that we can’t wait to do,” Kathy reports. “People always ask me where we get our ideas, and I say, ‘How can you not?!’”

The theater art boxes were a definite change of pace for Rainbow Hand, and Brian and Kathy realized early on that, to bring their visions to completion, they would need help. They approached fellow artists in the miniature world – and found them anxious to collaborate.

“Right away we knew we wanted to work with James Carrington and use his unique figures,” Kathy says. “The creative relationship has been great because we just talk about a particular character, and it arrives looking just as we had pictured it.”

For chandeliers, the Teppers turned to the Getzens. “We told them, ‘We want one like you’ve never done before. Just let loose. It doesn’t matter what it costs,’” Kathy reports. “When Jason Getzen saw our first room, he said, ‘Now I see what you mean! We can do anything we want to do!’ Then they made this 24-light chandelier that cost $1800. It was incredible. That’s what’s wonderful about these rooms. They let artists do things they might not be able to do otherwise.”

The Teppers also regularly contract with such artists as Ron Hubble & Company for architectural elements, Lorrianne Potts for jewels and jewelry, Carl Blindheim for animals and Alice Zinn for wild peacocks. “A lot of times, the artists will do the basic work ahead of time and we change or adapt it,” Kathy explains. “The peacocks, for instance, are wonderful, but I just have to put jewels on each feather! The artists know that we might change their work. Everyone’s been so nice about that.”

In addition to buying specific pieces from fellow artists, the Teppers collect with abandon. Almost every morning, they go out antique or junk shopping, keeping their eyes peeled for items that could be used down the creative road. Kathy has floor to ceiling drawers in her office, where she categorizes and keeps the pieces they find. “We told our kids, ‘If we die, don’t have a garage sale!’” she says with a laugh. “But we decided that, if we saw a wonderful miniature, we would buy it no matter what it cost. That way the collectors know when they buy one of our rooms, it will be full of good pieces.”

The rooms carry prices that reflect the wealth of items they contain, ranging from $7000 to $22,000. To make their work more affordable, the Teppers also offer individual pieces – a necklace form Cleopatra’s jewelry room, for example, or a statue featured in another setting.

Rainbow Hand has completed almost two dozen theater art rooms so far. The Teppers regularly attend the big miniature shows in Philadelphia and Chicago, as well as selected smaller shows closer to home. They do four to five rooms for each show and plan rooms two to three shows in advance. Their works are also featured at stores throughout the country. Larrianne Hilditch of Larrianne’s Small Wonders in Ventura, California, is an especially important sounding board for the couple and their ideas.

“Our idea,” Kathy explains, “is to present a picture or a story with some possibilities that maybe you hadn’t thought of. We start with an idea that may seem pretty normal but ends up with a quirky ending. People get so tired of seeing the expected. We put lots of things in each room – to get people thinking about what’s really going on.”

For Rainbow Hand, the glitz, glitter and unexpected are merely windows to the best world of all – the world of imagination. “Let loose and have fun” seems to be the overriding message. And that’s just perfect.


© March 2005