Mini sculptures for little artists

Maxkenzie McAlpin hosting ‘Magical Mythical Miniatures’ class for children at NLArts

Little creations: Mackenzie McAlpin’s acrylic paint and polymer clay sculptures that she will teach children how to make in her Magical Mythical Miniatures class. PHOTO: MACKENZIE MCALPIN

By Lindsey Nolen

Growing up in West Milton, Ohio, Mackenzie McAlpin remembers watching her fun-loving mother, Linda, create dozens of miniature sculptures by hand.

Although she never imagined that someday she too would take on this unique hobby, on Friday, May 12, McAlpin will be teaching her own NLArts “Magical Mythical Miniatures” class from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Northern Liberties Community Center, 700 N. 3rd St.

During the program, which costs $25 per child, McAlpin help children create their own miniature party animals, ranging from cats and dogs to anything imaginable. McAlpin’s goal is to help the kids learn about miniatures and sculpting while ultimately having fun — and enjoying pizza.

“I have a hard time making super serious pieces myself, so I want the kids to come in and just have tons of fun and laugh. They can make anything they can possibly think of, for example a dog sitting on a pizza,” McAlpin said.

Although this will be her first time teaching a class through the NLArts organization, McAlpin began creating minis roughly four years ago as part of an exhibit benefiting the Andrew Jackson School in South Philly.

For that show, which was held at the B2 coffee shop, each participating artist was asked to make a piece that reminded them of their childhood.

“I immediately remembered being really proud for winning an award at a library contest in elementary school for having the smallest teddy bear,” McAlpin said. “I’ve also always loved little tchotchkes, including the items from the 25-cent machines, so I decided to make a miniature orange tabby cat sculpture for the benefit.”

From there, McAlpin became hooked on creating more miniature sculptures, and has been making them since 2013. She has also felt, through her work, she has created a heightened connection with her mother who passed away in 2009 from a brain tumor.

“My mom was very magical and believed in the magical parts of life. For me, the miniatures are magical things that can bring you to another world,” McAlpin said. “When I make the minis today, I feel like my mom is right there with me.”

McAlpin remembers her mother using this hobby as a way to bring all of her ideas to life, but also as a way to make additional money to help support her five children as a single mother.

“We were really poor, living in a small community where you could even pay for things with trade. I remember my mom would make minis in exchange for help fixing the sink or car,” McAlpin said. “She was hilarious and her miniatures would bring a smile to everyone’s faces.”

Working as a teacher’s assistant, her mother would also make holiday-themed minis and sell them to the teachers at the school where she worked. These miniatures would range from heart-shaped necklaces on Valentine’s Day to Santa Claus pins around Christmas and Fourth of July flags with glitter.

Incorporating art and humor into her own meticulous pieces made from polymer clay and acrylic paints, just as her mother would have done, McAlpin’s sisters always tell her how proud their mother would have been of her work.

Now at 37 years old, the resident of 14th and Federal streets in South Philly admits that, although creating minis is a weird passion to have fallen into, it brings her much joy.

“I don’t have a background in sculpture, and I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing, but that organic element might be why people like my minis so much,” McAlpin said. “People are really great about the minis, and they make adults and kids really happy.”

Her favorite part of selling her work is seeing the look on the customer’s face when they see the miniature for the first time. While she finds herself critical of the work she makes for non-commercial purposes, she still loves the laughs or smiles they can draw from other people’s faces.

Helping combat her critical nature, upon starting to produce miniatures herself, McAlpin was contacted by Kate Ünver, founder of the popular website, The Daily Mini, in 2015.

Constantly asking her to produce certain works and helping to inspire creativity, Ünver invited McAlpin into a community of other miniature sculptures. Thus, today, McAlpin is working to pass on her interest to other possibly like-minded individuals through the NLArts program.

“I’m really excited to work with the kids at NLArts. The best part about working with kids is that they’re so free and you can feed off their energy,” she said. “I can’t wait to see them freely make whatever they want while digging in and working really small.”

To view McAlpin’s works of art, visit mackenziemcalpin.com. For more examples of miniature sculptures, visit thedailymini.com.