New Braunfels dollhouse artist creates amazingly realistic structures based on St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Japanese teahouses and American restaurants


NEW BRAUNFELS – For New Braunfels artist Jon Fish, the exquisite dollhouses and other small, detailed structures he creates are a stage for his creativity.

“I’ve always said miniatures are a very theatrical kind of thing,” said Fish, 62. “You control your audience’s worldview. It’s a bit like theater and scenography. … always looking to get a great reaction. It is, in a sense, almost like playing.

These small-scale productions are causing a stir among collectors and enthusiasts around the world.

Since leaving his career as a chef to make full-time miniatures almost 30 years ago, Fish has designed all kinds of meticulous mansions, provincial houses and other 1-scale table dwellings: 12, 1:24 and 1:48, all custom made with quality plywood and molded resins The fish builds, cuts and colors themselves.

One such room, a three-story French mansion with a large library, graces the Taiwan Miniatures Museum, Asia’s first museum to collect miniatures. A miniature Fish chamber box made from England’s famous Great Cuisine at the Brighton Pavilion can be found at the Spielzeug Welten Museum Basel, Europe’s largest dollhouse museum.

New Braunfels artist Jon Fish poses with a dollhouse he modeled after an old French mansion. Fish makes each miniature structure by hand without any model kits.

Steve Manuel

Then there are these really awesome pieces that Fish makes for their clients. About four years ago, he completed for longtime miniaturist Sally Wallace in Des Moines, Iowa, a 7-foot-tall dollhouse reminiscent of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, borrowing heavily from its bulbous domes. and its neo-Russian architecture. Now he’s making Wallace a 5-foot-tall “Christmas Shop” that doubles as an Advent calendar.

Wallace loved the cathedral so much that she wrote “Russian Fantasy,” a book that details the construction of the title piece from its ornate cathedral exterior to its eclectic original interior, which includes a museum, astronomical observatory, and quarters. dwelling.

“He’s just a top craftsman,” Wallace said of Fish. “If you looked inside the structure, you wouldn’t know it was miniature unless you knew it was miniature, if that makes sense.”

Fish grew up in San Jose, California, DIYing models as a hobby, then rekindled that love a few years later by working as a chef in Aspen, Colorado. to fight cabin fever, ”said Fish.

Armed with dollhouse building guides from an Aspen bookstore, Fish began making his own structures that initially favored historic English and French mansions with their round towers, conical roofs and weathered masonry, then moved on to a variety of other designs, from a Japanese tea house with traditional shoji (rice paper) windows and sliding doors to a series of retro American restaurants, hotels and theaters.

A dollhouse inspired by an American cinema, realized by the miniature artist of New Braunfels, Jon Fish.

A dollhouse inspired by an American cinema, realized by the miniature artist of New Braunfels, Jon Fish.

Jon Fish

He continued to make miniatures as a hobby even after moving to Austin in 1983. Then about a decade later he dusted off an old Victorian garden house he had made and touched it up for display. at a hobby store in Austin. The response was so positive, Fish decided to leave the kitchen for good and make the carpenter’s bench his full-time workspace.

“It wasn’t easy,” he laughed. “But that was what I wanted to do.”

Fish’s hyperrealistic pieces appear to have been ripped from the real world, but they don’t actually exist, so he calls his style fantastic. “Often, dollhouse miniatures are used to bring back memories,” Fish said. “It just fulfills one thing I’ve always had since I was a kid.”

Fish had the help of her late husband Larry Osborn, whom he had met years before in Colorado. As “The Guys from Texas,” Fish and Osborn taught dollhouse making classes and created their own model kits for hobbyists. But when Osborn died in 2019, Fish got lost in a backlog of work as he cried.

“Then I met Steve and got back on my feet,” Fish said.

Steve Manuel has long indulged in his own creative outlet. Christmas enthusiast born on Christmas Day, Manuel often decorates hallways each year with more than two dozen Christmas trees and enough garlands to wrap around the block.

Manuel joked that he thought he was the accomplished artist. Then he got a glimpse of Fish’s creations.

New Braunfels artist Jon Fish and Steve Manuel laid the roof of the 5-foot-tall Russian-inspired structure he's working on for a client in Des Moines, Iowa.  Fish has been a full time miniature maker for almost 30 years.

New Braunfels artist Jon Fish and Steve Manuel laid the roof of the 5-foot-tall Russian-inspired structure he’s working on for a client in Des Moines, Iowa. Fish has been a full time miniature maker for almost 30 years.

Sam Owens / Team Photographer

“I never tire of his work. I am always impressed, ”said Manuel. “And I always say ‘John, you have to stop. Because that’s not what you put in the contract. But that’s the way it is. He always adds details at the very last minute to make it. its happy customers.

Fish’s customers pay a lot of money for his miniature creations. This Christmas store that Fish is working on is priced at $ 35,000. The fish typically charges between $ 6,000 and $ 8,000 per room for a general dollhouse structure.

“When you start a project, it’s kind of like being an entrepreneur,” Fish said. “You kind of have to get to know the customer. You have to know what they want.

Fish typically spends several days sketching out plans for a project, then presents at least two concepts to his client. Once he gets the green light for a design, he calls in his favorite hobby shop in Michigan for building materials, which he cuts himself.

Fish typically make their miniature structures from high quality birch or maple based plywood. (“Like you would use it in a kitchen cabinet,” he said.).

Then there are all these minute details. Fish carves and paints just about the decorative ornaments of each structure, from cornices along the tops of buildings to illustrative embellishments, such as the trumpet-sounding angels and the Nutcracker columns on Wallace’s Advent house. . He even cuts and designs individual wall panels and floor tiles if he deems the extra details needed, which he often does.

All of this manual work takes time. Fish typically spends up to a year working on a project. In the past, he has worked on up to five structures at a time. These days, it’s limited to just two a year.

Fish said he hopes to retire in about seven years, and that he hopes a new generation of dollhouse builders will keep the old craft alive.

In the meantime, Fish said he and Manuel would travel to Des Moines in early December to bring Wallace back to the Advent house. Then Fish joked that he might like to focus on smaller Christmas-themed projects.

Of course, he already knows how to create wonderland whatever the season.

[email protected] | Twitter: @reneguz

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