The Mini Time Machine: Museum of Miniatures

Bella Burd

Stumbling upon the Mini Time Machine 

I had the privilege of taking a gap year last year that allowed me to travel to 48 states. Each time I arrived at a new location, I would become antsy to unveil the new and unexplored territory of the City. I’d begin by getting out my trusted iPhone and opening up the maps app to get an idea of the general lay out, and then I would race to Safari to pin-point a destination for my next adventure. The searches consisted of something along the lines of “Places I have to visit in Tucson”,  “Places you can only find in Tucson”, or “If I only have 24 hours in Tucson, what can I not miss?” until I found something that peaked my interest. The Mini Time Machine presented itself to me in this exact manner, but it only took one search. I typed in the search bar “Unique things to do in Tucson” and pressed enter, the first result popping up as “35 Cool and Unusual Things to Do in Tucson- Atlas Obscura”, and with one click, there it was. The third location out of the list of 35, Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures.

A glimpse of my collection

Having quite the collection of miniatures at my own home, I was drawn in by the name and upon additional investigation, even more captivated by the idea of The Museum, further convincing me to go check it out for myself.

Taking a look inside

Immediately upon arrival, I was intrigued, what was beyond this huge door? I asked myself, semi-expecting a warm glow to seep out of the cracks when I opened it. The young woman standing behind the counter, Jazlyn, warmly greeted me with a smile as soon as I entered exclaiming that I chose the perfect time to come in. “You practically have the place to yourself”. I later discovered how lucky I really was after finding out from Michael, a Museum Specialist on the team, that anywhere from 500 to 4000 visitors are expected per week.

Jazlyn asked if I had ever been before, and after hearing my “no” she was quick to give me a map as well as a verbal rundown of how The Museum functioned. She told me that a part of The Museum was their in-house fairy, Caitlin, and further explained that there were 5 fairy Caitlins all wearing different costumes placed around The Museum in random exhibits as a gallery activity for children. She asked me if I would like to participate, concluding the sentence with “there is a small prize if you find all five”. She gave me a piece of paper with pictures of all 5 fairy Caitlins and wished me good luck as she sent me into the exhibit to explore the hundreds of tiny universes captured behind glass casings scattered throughout just 10,000 square feet. Departing from the front desk, I did a quick walk through the room before my transcend into the mini time machine.

Transporting through the Mini Time Machine 

How you navigate The Museum is completely up to you with the 3 exhibit rooms presenting themselves simultaneously in the circular buffer hallway between the front and the galleries. Before even choosing my path, I was immediately drawn in by the attention to detail upon first glancing at the initial exhibit lining one of the walls. Jean LeRoy’s Buzzard Creek Ghost Town was one of the many temporary exhibitions displayed this year only residing in The Museum from September 27th – October 30th, 2022.  “Buzzard Creek ghost town” the brown uncentered banner on the back wall read, towering over the 4 old-western style buildings complete with a similarly detailed interior including moving skeletons figurines and changing lights inhabiting the inside.

After inspecting, I decided to begin my journey by entering the room labeled “History Gallery” where I was presented with three big glass cases, one of which I had already subconsciously drifted inches from. The artist’s tag read: “John Bellemy Complex, A copy of the artist’s own home which still stands in West Newton, Massachusetts. Electrified by the miniature’s previous owners, Mr. and Mrs. G. Canfield, and restored by Pat Arnell”. A three-story, cream-paneled house with a dark-stained side deck, matching trim and shutters, drop-down windows, and two bay windows absorbing the side of the house, with walls removed allowing you to peer inside.

This description does not nearly do this house justice with the amount of detail being something I can’t fathom. In the side yard, a bird’s nest nestled atop the branch of a tree containing hundreds of individual leaves, further featuring tiny blue nesting eggs perched above a yellow wooden bird house with a black roof.  Sitting below, a wooden bench with faded stained planks and blue metal railings faces away from the house and beyond the fence surrounding the property. A circular surface, made of red bricks lies underneath, surrounded by a ring of dark green moss, it sticks out from the surrounding grass. Inhabiting around 2 square inches of the yard, the tree, bird nest, eggs, bench, brick patio, and birdhouse allow plenty of room for the remaining landscaping and yard decor.

As you can imagine, with individual aspects being this intricate, it becomes difficult to not getting lost in the detail, causing me to walk laps around the case in hopes of taking it all in. Realizing that I hadn’t even scratched the surface of things to see, I reluctantly moved on to the remaining exhibits in the history gallery.

Continuing My Path

I was able to swiftly move through the middle of the history gallery with nothing quite as enticing to me as the John Bellemy Complex, however once reaching the end of the guided hallway, I could feel my eyes being pulled toward a person-sized structure. Farrow’s Department Store, a 4-story, brick building with windows practically the width of the structure looking directly in. Personally, this was my favorite exhibit. Walking past felt like I was genuinely peering into the lives of the people displayed on all four floors. Starting at the top floor, filled with bright colors which upon further inspection were toys lining the shelves, complete with its own set of miniature doll houses perched in the corner.

Taking the elevator located on the left side of the establishment down to floor three, you stumble upon the words 3rd FLOOR・ Juniors・ Misses ・Infants wrapping around the upper walls of the department store. After browsing through women’s clothing and infant supplies ranging from stuffed koala bears to cribs, I transport myself down another floor landing me in the ice cream parlor/ gourmet candy shop. A spiral staircase connects the parlor to the remaining floor, Gifts ・ Perfumes ・ Jewelry / China & Silver. Exhibiting just that, this floor definitely provides the most detail with the tiniest assortment of goods being a display of rings on a black foam ring holder placed in another display case parallel to the left wall.

Concluding my time in the History Gallery, I persist, taking another hour and 17 minutes to explore the rest of the Mini Time Machine in the Enchanted Realm and Contemporary Miniatures rooms before completing the loop. Spitting me out right back at the entrance, I reproach the front counter to collect my prize for finding Fairy Caitlin in all 5 of her costumes. I announced that my quest had been successful, and was presented with a box of mini erasers and Fairy Caitlin temporary tattoos with further instruction to pick one before being handed a Mini Time Machine window decal and wished a great rest of my day.

What is the Mini Time Machine? 

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is a nonprofit organization that values quality, accessibility, and stewardship. It was founded by the Arnell’s, a couple that became very active in the miniature community that wanted an interactive space where their collection could be enjoyed and shared by everyone. The Mini Time Machines purpose became providing an enchanting and fulfilling experience for all who participate in the world of miniatures, creating a gift that keeps on giving by awarding all proceeds to the funding of The Museum’s operations. This is made possible by the never-ending collaboration that keeps everything flowing between The Museum and the exhibitions, artists, educators, and funding support.

My Take

I believe that this museum might have the most accurate name I’ve ever come across. At The Mini Time Machine, you can expect just that, to jump in time from place to place, each exhibit transporting you into a new world.  I think that there is a little something for everybody at this museum, with pieces ranging from pencil sculptures in the contemporary miniatures wing to mini replicas of real buildings in the history gallery, to the enchanted tree with holiday scenes tucked among its nooks and crannies, in the enchanted realm. I highly recommend that anybody considering visiting makes a stop in. The Museum presents three primary and three secondary exhibitions each year leaving them up for about 4 months at a time giving each visitor a unique experience. Ticket prices range from free-$11.50, and once you have purchased your ticket, you are welcome to stay as long or as little as you would like making this a perfect place for a day excursion, or a pit stop depending on how long you plan to linger.

For me, two hours did not seem like nearly enough time to explore all that The Museum had to offer, so I definitely plan on returning in the future. Maybe it was because I kept getting lost in the detail, but I feel like I could return time after time again and never quite see everything displayed in those scattered glass casings. If you feel like you were able to see everything, and are searching for more, The Museum currently presents three primary exhibitions accompanied by 3 secondary exhibitions each year leaving displays up for about four months at a time, allowing customers to return time and time again without losing the magic. Whenever you are looking for a unique excursion, I highly recommend giving this place a shot, allowing it to transport you out of this world, and into a mini-one.

Your experience doesn’t have to end when you walk out the door because The Museum has continued to utilize the virtual spaces created while navigating the pandemic. This has also allowed The Museum to connect with a wider audience, offering in person attendance as well as resources for home use, allowing everybody to connect in a way that is comfortable for them.


Bella Burd is from North Carolina and is currently a freshman attending the University of Arizona.