Artist creates tiny, soft sculptures to memorialize pets
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
HASTINGS, Minn.—A lot of people get emotional when they first see the dollhouse-sized figures that Lucy Francis makes.
“I cried. It took my breath away,” said Carol Bryant about opening the package Francis sent her about 10 years ago.
Inside was a tiny sculpture of a dog, a replica of Bryant’s beloved pet, a cocker spaniel named Brandy Noel who had recently died.
“It’s like she took my dog and shrunk it down,” said Bryant, a pet blogger from Pennsylvania. “It’s like a memorial to her.”
That’s how Francis has been making a living for the past 20 years, creating three-dimensional, pocket-size portraits of dead but not forgotten family pets.
The Hastings artist (lucyfrancisminiatures.com) combines pieces of fur and fiber, wool and wire, and ends up with a miniature, fuzzy model of a dog, often incorporating bits of the dog’s hair.
That way the grieving dog owner can “feel like they still have a little bit of them there,”
Francis charges $300 to $2,400 for the custom sculptures, depending on the size and complexity. Demand is strong. She’s sent her dog sculptures to 17 countries, from Japan to South Africa. One customer was a sheikh from Qatar who collects miniatures. She’s currently working on an order of several dogs for a customer in Portugal. She’s made miniatures of some celebrity pets, including dogs owned by Martha Stewart, Shirley MacLaine, John Prine and Andrew W.K.
At her home, where she lives with a cairn terrier named Bob and a Chihuahua terrier mix named Fred, Francis has shoe boxes filled with plastic zip-top bags containing tufts of hair sent in by dog owners to be used in miniatures.
One is labeled “Merlin left side neck/rough.” Another reads, “Lexie ears, legs.”
“The real fur is really important to most of the owners,” Francis said. “Many of them want it back because it’s treasure for them.”
She also uses bits of alpaca fur, camel’s hair, silk, cashmere and leather to make the miniatures, basing the models on photographs of the real dogs.
Her customers say she can somehow capture the essence of their animals in a fuzzy figurine just a few inches tall.
“Their facial expressions are perfect. Their poses are perfect,” said Judy Ersery, of Bloomington, Ill., who had Francis duplicate her Brussels Griffon named Bentley and her Maltese named Daphne.
The small versions of Bentley and Daphne are curled up in a little dog bed in a scale-model room, just as they did in real life. “It’s comforting,” Ersery said.
IT’S A SMALL WORLD
Francis works at the intersection of two communities that can seem a little odd to outsiders: the world of miniatures, where dollhouses and miniature furnishings can cost as much as the real thing. And the world of pet lovers, where the loss of a four-legged companion can be more devastating than the death of a relative.
“The work I like most is dealing with the dog owners, helping them deal with the loss of their pet,” Francis said. “People get in that place of grief and they want to see that dog again.”
She said some of her sculptures have been done of a pet that died years ago, purchased by an owner who is still grieving.
One customer was a woman with terminal brain cancer who emerged from a coma to learn that her sister had given away her borzoi hound and she couldn’t get it back. The woman ordered a replica from Francis.
“She’s going to be buried with that dog,” Francis said.
Amanda Speva, a Chicagobased filmmaker, filmed Francis for a documentary she is making about people who are obsessed with miniature objects.
“Her work is so beautiful and meaningful. The attention to the details, the passion for animals,” Speva said.
Speva said Francis ended up doing a miniature of her cocker spaniel. The resemblance is “pretty uncanny,” Speva said.
Francis, 65, was a housewife before becoming a miniature dog sculptor. She made her first fiber dog model because she wanted to give something to her parents after their Yorkshire terrier died.
It turned into a business after her models started to draw attention at craft shows, in magazines devoted to hobbyists and at conventions of miniature craft makers.
■ Lucy Francis works on creating a miniature replica of a dog from an order at her home Aug. 6 in Hastings, Minn. Her miniature art pieces sell for $300 to $2,400, with some work ending up in the hands of celebrities such as Martha Stewart and Shirley MacLaine.