Miniature Masterpieces at the Barn Museum

The Barn Museum in South Amana, Iowa, is home to 250 miniature masterpieces

Henry Moore's miniature reproduction of the Farm's Elevator at Cylinder, Iowa

Henry Moore's miniature reproduction of the Farm's Elevator at Cylinder, Iowa. The original building burned in the 1930s.

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A 1913 horse barn in South Amana, Iowa, showcases what may be America's largest-known collection of miniatures created by one man. 

Henry Moore spent 15 years reproducing farm buildings in miniature: log cabins, a Southern plantation, a Northern California logging camp, and other old-time structures. Today, the Barn Museum exhibits approximately 250 miniature replicas built by Moore.

Moore began working with miniatures at age 58. His first project was a replica of a farm near Depew, Iowa, where he had lived. From then until his death in 1983, he spent most of his time building in the scale of 1 inch to 1 foot.

Soon, Moore's miniature masterpieces had filled his home in Marengo, Iowa. In 1976, Moore moved his miniatures into an old horse barn in South Amana, where he opened the Barn Museum.

The Amana Colonies were founded by True Inspirationists, a religious group with members from Germany, Switzerland and Alsace. Communal living in the colonies ended in 1932, but many of the large communal buildings still stand.

The 1913 horse barn, built with wooden pegs instead of nails, serves as an appropriate backdrop for Moore's miniature creations, which include the village of New Salem, Ill., where Lincoln once lived; an 1880 farmstead; the community of Cylinder, Iowa, as it appeared in the 1920s; a typical Amana village; and an Appalachian mountain home.

In contrast to these primitive buildings, Moore's replica of the Ashland-Belle Helene plantation home near Darrow, La., measures 87 inches square and weighs about 1,500 pounds. Slave quarters stand next to the elegant mansion.

For many of his projects, Moore relied on his memory and old photographs. But if possible, he measured the original building and then drew his own blueprints before reproducing the structure on a smaller scale. He relied almost solely on historical research when constructing his lumber camp.

A perfectionist, Moore made every detail authentic. To replicate the four-story granary in the Amana village of Homestead, he used 2,290 pieces of wood, 200 screws, and 11,479 nails. He drilled all the nails and screws into the wood to prevent it from splitting.

He made a woodpile by gluing together 4,644 pieces of wood. That job took 18 hours.

Moore loved woodworking so much that he used two workshops: one in his home, and one at the museum. He could have a maximum of five buildings under construction at once.

His wife, Charlotte, who died in 1993, also got involved in his projects. She located figures of miniature people and animals to populate the villages and farmsteads, and landscaped each scene. She sewed curtains for the windows, and costumes for the people. She added about 3,000 small items to the displays.

Today, the Moores' children operate the museum in memory of their parents. The couple's son, John, has constructed a miniature model of the home in which he and his sisters were raised, and a model of their grandmother's home. These small structures also are displayed at the museum.

"This is a family endeavor to perpetuate our father's dream," said Doris Knutson, one of the Moores' daughters. "He always said that the miniatures were built by the talent God had given him, and would be taken care of in that manner." FC 

The Barn Museum: open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 1-Oct. 31. For more information, write to the Barn Museum, Box 124, South Amana, IA, 52334; phone (319) 622-3058; online at www.barnmuseum.com. 

Dianne L. Beetler is a lifelong rural resident who enjoys writing about people with unusual collections.