Houses Built on Plates
MRS. BOB GEORGE, of Walker, Minnesota, is an architect, a landscape artist, and contractor-builder all rolled into one—but you've never met anyone who builds houses in a similar manner. Her houses are built on wooden plates, from bits of different colored veneers, pebbles or dowels, with grass and trees tastefully "planted" on the grounds. Tree foliage and grass are drill press shavings and tree trunks are slivers of walnut veneer. Instead of nails, she uses household cement to build the house as well as to plant the portions of the landscaping.
This business of building houses on pine plates began about five years ago. Mrs. George built a little honeymoon cottage on a turned wooden plate, using veneers. Around the rim of the plate she carved the legend "To a friend's house, the road is never long." These friendship plates were added to the other hand carved pieces in the George's gift shop and were eye catchers from the start. Then she built their own home on a plate. A customer coming in one day, saw her latest job and declared, "Well, if you can put your house on a plate, you can put mine on, too" and then and there commissioned Olive George to do the job. Since that time, Mrs. George estimates that she has built in the neighborhood of 1,000 houses on pine plates which are scattered throughout about half of the forty-eight states and in France, Germany, England and Finland—for the Finish house she used real pebbles, since the original was of rocks.
Generally people send a snapshot of the home and Mrs. George works from that, although in one case she had only a verbal description to go by. A customer came in one day, saw samples of the plates and decided she wanted one. Because she was from a distance and had no picture of her house with her, she described it to Mrs. George, who sketched it as the woman talked. Mrs. George says she likes to have a description of the color of the house along with the picture, for although she does not attempt to use the true colors, she then knows which parts should be light and which dark veneers to produce the natural looking contrast.
MOST PEOPLE first order a plate with their own home on it, then decide that it would make a perfect gift for newlyweds, or people who have recently built a home and so order more as gifts. Mrs. George recalls that she made plates for six members of one family. They were all of the old family homestead but the plates were not the same, for each person remembered the house differently and over a period of years new wings or other additions had been made to the original house so the plates had to be made as each individual wished.
"One advantage of this kind of building," Mrs. George says, "is that I can add or subtract to and from both the house and grounds." For instance, if the customer is planning a remodeling job, Mrs. George can build the house as it will appear when it is finished. The same goes for the landscaping of the grounds. She can add shrubs, trees or lawn—or leave them out, if desired. On occasion, when the picture she was following was of a new house with the grounds still unfinished, Mrs. George landscaped the grounds on the plate to suit herself, and in at least one case, the customer followed her landscaping ideas because they seemed to suit the house so well.
Mrs. George had been building these houses for about a year before she had a chance to see a customer's reaction to the finished piece. It happened that this particular plate had been purchased as a gift and Mrs. George was invited to the event where presentation was made. As the recipient unwrapped the plate and viewed it for the first time, her comment was. "My! what a pretty plate." Then she took a second look, realized that she was seeing her own home reproduced, and was really thrilled.
Many orders come by mail from folk whom Mrs. George has never seen. They know where to write for on the back of each plate Olive letters in ink:
THE WHITTLE SHOP
Around the rim of the plate Mrs. George carves whatever the customer desires. It may be the person's name or some other legend.
Prices for the plates are standard regardless of the type of house or the landscaping that is done, $8.25, postpaid to any address.
TO PRODUCE a plate of this sort, Mrs. George follows this procedure: First of all the plate must be turned on the lathe from pine. This is husband Bob's job as a rule, though Olive handles the lathe chisels skillfully. You can, of course, purchase blank wooden plates. After the plate is turned to approximately eleven inches in diameter and sanded smooth, it is sealed with lacquer sealer. The recessed center portion is next gouged with a U gouge to give an interesting textured background for the building, then the entire piece is given a second coat of lacquer sealer, Now the plate is ready to have the house built in the recessed center portion.
Mrs. George views the picture of the house, the different parts of the plate onto which it is to go, and mentally plans the layout and landscaping; then she sketches the house in proportion to fit the plate. The sketching is usually done directly on one color of veneer which will be the main color of the house. The different parts of the house are then cut from contrasting veneers with a sharp knife or scissors, and glued to the sketched pattern as overlays to build up the house in three-dimensional effect. After gluing on the various portions, Mrs. George cuts the entire house pattern from the veneer on which it was first sketched. Occasionally she cuts out the sketched pattern first and glues it to the plate background, then does the building after the main portion of the plate is glued to the house. Duco household cement is the medium she prefers for gluing. The portions of the house are held in place with pins until the glue sets.
That portion of the house which will be hidden by the foliage of trees need not be finished in detail.
To make tree foliage, Mrs. George uses drill press shavings. She prepares batches of shavings of different colored woods and keeps them in boxes to be ready for use. To make the shavings, she says she simply uses a quarter-inch bit in the drill press and "drills a lot of holes" in a piece of wood, carefully saving the drill shavings. Shavings from different colored woods make different types of foliage. Slivers of walnut veneer are used for tree trunks. To add trees, shrubs and grass to the picture, Mrs. George simply squeezes glue onto the place that will be occupied by the foliage, then sprinkles on the drill press shavings. After putting in the foliage, she adds the walnut veneer tree trunks.
When she is building a log house, Mrs. George uses one-eighth-inch dowel sections or medical swab sticks for the logs. For stone houses, little pebbles fill the bill.
When the glue has dried thoroughly, the finish is applied. Two coats of shellac, then a coat of plastic varnish give a glossy finish. Curtain rings attached to the back of the plate with a brass staple make hangers, for most of the plates are used for wall decorations.
Though Olive and Bob George hand carve all sorts of items, they believe that their houses built on plates have given more downright pleasure to people than any other and each new house which she builds is a challenge to Olive's ingenuity and a job which she thoroughly enjoys doing.
Note: To account for inflation, multiply prices by 8 to 10.