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Jim & Shirley Hillhouse

Profile of a Craftsman
The Scale Cabinetmaker: 2:3 (April, 1978)

Have you ever heard of a "closet collector" of miniatures? I suspect that most of us began as Jim and Shirley Hillhouse describe their beginnings, as "closet collectors": fascinated by miniatures and scale models but somewhat uneasy about what the neighbors would think. But what the neighbors did think of the early furniture made by this delightful and talented couple in Holden Massachusetts convinced them to begin their talents and craftsmanship out of the closet and into the view of the hobby at large. It began with the furnishings for their grand daughter Beth's house in 1974. And today, Hillhouse Handmade Miniatures--a full line of 19th century cottage furniture, produced by Jim and decorated with stenciled designs by Shirley--appear regularly at craftsmen's shows throughout the northeast.

Their respective backgrounds and interests are evident in their work. Trained at the School for the Worcester (Mass.) Art Museum, Shirley has worked as a fashion and book illustrator, and until recently as Public Relations Director for the YMCA. Before resigning her positions at the Y to enter the field of miniatures full-time, she took a course in stenciling and furniture decorating. But those skills, reinforced by her artist's talents, have never been used on a full-scale piece of furniture, for she turned them immediately to the field of scale modeling. The decoration on each of the pieces produced by the Hillhouses is researched, designed, and hand-executed by Shirley.

Jim's approach to miniatures also reflects his background. Currently the Chief Engineer for Coes Knife Company, he has spent his life as a products and production engineer in industry. Even in miniature, he tends to think "big" and, by his admission, not always with the best results. With plans from Craft Products for Shirley's first miniature house, a chalet, he built five! Components for their first commercial piece, a grandfather clock, were cut in sufficient numbers to assure an ample supply,; but two hundred clock-base blocks still remain in their basement shop. ("They make fine cushion blocks, when pounding," says Jim.") And they are still working their way through the better part of 10,000 medical applicators that Jim purchased for use as spindle material in deacon's benches. But these are errors of enthusiasm for miniatures: an enthusiasm evident in his current projects of designing and building a model of 18th century Wareham-Williams house in Connecticut and of developing a pie-crust table top that wil not warp.

Their skill and wit are evident; their enthusiams infectious; and The Scale Cabinetmaker is delighted to share the talents of the Hillhouses with its readers.

TSC Articles by Jim & Shirley Hillhouse

  • An Introduction to Stenciled Decoration: 2:3 (5-6)
  • The Stenciled Cottage Chest, Circa 1840: 2:3 (4-16)
  • Stenciling in Miniature: 2:3 (11-16)
  • Three Drawer Cottage Chest: 2:3 (7-10)

 


 

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