Munchkinland In Miniature

by Stephen Sisters

In late 1987, as merchandise started appearing, and events started gearing up for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of The Wizard of Oz, I began contemplating how I could contribute to the upcoming anniversary. Somehow I wanted to show my appreciation for the years of enjoyment the film had brought to my life by creating something to share with the rest of the Oz community.

I had dabbled in model building and miniatures in the past, and thought that possibly I could re-create one or more of the sets in miniature. At first, I looked into the possibility of building the Kansas set, but at that time, none of the set stills were available. (0f course, 10 years later, as we all know, some did indeed surface!) Then it dawned on me - what set could be more recognizable than Munchkinland? (Of course, it would also be the most challenging set to build, but I wouldn't discover that until I was too far into the construction to turn back!)

Armed with an array of set and production stills, and drawing from my education in Architecture, I started from scratch to draw up a floor plan and elevations of the entire village - from huts to hollyhocks. (Wouldn't you know, within months of finishing the model, the original blueprints of Munchkinland were published for the first time in "When the Lion Roars", a history of MGM studios.) The biggest challenge was making sure everything looked "proportionally correct" to the eye, and somehow it all just worked out. Of course, I wasn't quite sure if I would ever finish drawing the spiral of the yellow brick road so it looked right; I searched everywhere for mathematical formulas on how to draw a spiral, but none existed. So after weeks of trial and error, and multiple discarded drawings, the spiral was as close to reality as it would ever be, and I was ready to begin construction on the model.

The challenges of building each component of the model completely overshadowed those of the plans. Everything had to be made by hand due to the uniqueness of the set, and each component presented it's own challenges.

Following is a brief pictorial explanation of how & from what materials each part of the model was built.

MUNCHKIN HOUSES: Lower part of each house made from simple cardboard mailing tubes. Roofs : shape carved out of styrofoam, then pieces of raffia were applied one at a time to achieve the look of real thatching. (the thatching of the roofs alone took 2 months - I wasn't sure I would make it past this point!)
POND AND STREAM : Inside of the pond and stream were painted blue, then filled with clear acrylic resin. Lily pads were cut from copper sheeting, hand-embossed , then painted green.
HOLLYHOCKS: First, silk flowers and silk leaves were cut to the appropriate sizes and shapes, sprayed with polyurethane; then a piece of floral wire was attached to each flower and leaf; these were then individually wired and glued onto a larger main stem.

YELLOW BRICK ROAD: Cut from artists board. The outline of the road and every single brick were drawn by hand, then covered with colored acetate.

BRIDGE: Base of bridge, railings and lanterns all carved from balsa wood.

STEPS: All the levels of steps throughout the model were cut from foamcore, the exposed foam edges sealed, then painted.

DOROTHY'S HOUSE: The base of house made from balsa wood. The shingles on the roof were cut from cardboard and applied one-by-one.

Other assorted "greenery" was made from a wide variety of dried flowers and plants, which were painted, polyurethaned, and individually set into place.

The background scenery was a 10' long continuous mural drawn with colored pastels, then attached inside the plexiglass cover.

The finishing touch was a tiny pair of Ruby Slippers sticking out from in under Dorothy's house.

Overall, the construction of the model took approximately 18 months. Up until the beginning of August, 1989, when the model was nearing completion, I still did not know what I was going to do with it. But thanks to the efforts of John Fricke, I was able to display it just 2 weeks later at the MGM 50th Anniversary celebration in Culver City, Calif., alongside original props and costumes from the movie. It was purchased that very same day, and now resides in the collection of a prominent Oz collector.

The first cover of Beyond the Rainbow Collector's Exchange Jan./Feb. 1991

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