Tina Garrett decided to make a dollhouse -- not too bizarre a project for an elementary-school art teacher. Paint, glue, yarn and Popsicle sticks were among her tools - again, that figures.
Even the fact that making a dollhouse was on Garrett’s “bucket list” - 100 things she wanted to do before she “kicked the bucket” - doesn’t seem strange. It’s what’s on the list along with the dollhouse that might cause people to blink.
“I want to drive a transfer truck, an 18-wheeler,” says Garrett, a Blount County resident who teaches art at Halls and West Haven elementary schools in Knox County. “I want to drive a combine.
“Learning to ride a motorcycle was another one of them; I’ve already checked that one off. I went to driver-training school for motorcycles, and I got my motorcycle license, and I have a motorcycle.
“There’s something in me about driving. I used to drive a school bus. I like to drive.”
The North Carolina native might be able to drive to the redwood forest of California -- also on her bucket list, but there’s no way she’ll be able to make a road trip to Paris, France. And she has no control over whether - or when - she’ll have a grandchild.
“That has nothing to do with me,” she acknowledges, adding that she hopes it’s a while before either of her daughters, who are 21 and 20, has offspring.
When she does check off the grandmother box on her list, she’ll have to take her grandchild to the Blount County Public Library, 508 N. Cusick St., to see her dollhouse. Garrett donated the creation to the library in late June.
“After I finished it, I really didn’t know what I was going to do with it,” says Garrett, whose dollhouse was at the University of Tennessee’s Downtown Gallery for six weeks this spring as part of a Dogwood Arts Festival-sponsored exhibition of art by Knox County art teachers. “I really don’t like having any of my artwork in the house because I keep looking at it and thinking of ways I could change it, and it just drives me nuts.”
Garrett got the idea of donating it to the library after her fiancé, Jim Ford, noticed another dollhouse on display there. Sharing it with the children - young and old -- of Blount County seemed like the perfect culmination for her project.
The dollhouse was high on her bucket list because it was relatively attainable. Ford bought her a kit - basically balsa wood for the house frame and room dividers - for Christmas 2009.
“I started on Christmas Day, and I worked nonstop - I was almost obsessed - until May,” she says.
She banished Ford, a graphic designer, from their laundry room/studio, while she worked.
“I think Jim suffered a lot because he would ask me to go places or do things, and I was always busy working on my dollhouse,” she says. “He told me he would never buy me another one.
“I became a hermit for nearly six months because that’s really all I wanted to do. But it was cold, nasty weather, so it was a good time to do it.”
Garrett wasn’t interested in making a fancy mansion or an elaborate re-creation of a historic home.
“I wanted it to look like a real kid’s dollhouse,” she says, “and I think I pulled that off pretty well.”
Decorating and furnishing the house wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be.
“When I started it, I was just going to buy all the stuff to go in it until I saw how expensive everything was,” she says. “I didn’t think it’d be that expensive.
“You’d go to buy it, and you see the ones on sale and they’re ugly, so then you think, ‘No, I want something different.’ And so when you look at the ones that are ‘different,’ you could actually buy the real thing almost.
“That’s when I decided to start doing research and figuring out how to make most of the stuff for the inside.”
Garrett didn’t keep track of her spending, and she did buy some special features such as lighting and appliances.
“Everything else was made or transformed - I bought it really cheap and changed it up somehow,” she says. “Altogether I’ve probably got $300 in it.”
Garrett scavenged school recycle bins, thrift stores and Wal-Mart for most of her materials. She used scrapbooking paper for wallpaper and cut up magazines for wall art and old shirts for furniture fabric. She “built” a sofa, chairs, a fireplace and tools, a bed with a canopy, an armoire filled with clothes, a dressing table, perfume bottles and jewelry, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Some items took multiple attempts.
“I made the sofa three times,” she says. “It was supposed to be a 12:1 scale, 12 inches to one inch, so I measured our sofa and started making a sofa to go in there. When I put it in there, it was too big. So I made it again, and I decided that time that it was too tall, so I gave those first two away to some kids at school.”
The third time “was ‘just right,’ just like Goldilocks,” she says.
The house includes a living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, nursery and attic/art studio - even greenery.
“I made houseplants out of masking tape and wire and colored them with Sharpie markers,” she says.
The one thing it doesn’t have is people.
“I have a little dog in it, but I never made the people,” says Garrett. “I kept looking at the ones that you can buy, and they’re kind of creepy looking so I never bought any of those. You can actually make dolls, make their face out of clay and stuff. That was my intent, but I never got it done.”
Still, she says, it’s obvious that only females “live” in the house.
“It’s all girlie,” Garrett says. The nursery is for a baby girl, “and it’s obvious just a woman lives there.”
Isn’t that adding insult to injury for Ford, who made the biggest sacrifice for her art?
“I made a wedding dress that’s in the attic on one of those little forms, and I told him that it was the remnants of a failed marriage - that and the baby,” Garrett says, laughing.