Museum of miniatures opens at Village

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 11, 2002

A dream more than 40 years old has come alive again at The American Village in Montevallo.

Groundbreaking was June 8 for the Pettus Randall Miniature Museum of American History at The American Village.

The Village’s newest building will house a collection of 72 handcrafted miniatures of American presidents and first ladies as well as 35 detailed dioramas of moments in America’s history.

American Village Executive Director Tom Walker joined the Randall family of Randall Publishing Company in Tuscaloosa in opening Phase I of the museum.

Randall Publishing employees and many others involved with the new project were there to witness the groundbreaking and unveiling of the sign marking the location of the museum.

Both the museum and the building are being donated to the Village by Pettus Randall III, representing the company, as a tribute to his father.

Randall III said to the crowd that he wanted to talk about failures.

His father, Pettus Randall Jr., spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on the miniatures, which he hoped would bring American history to those who could not travel to Washington to see firsthand what he called, &uot;America’s story.&uot;

Although the thought was admirable, the museum did not pay for itself, Randall III said. His father lost money, and the miniatures were placed in storage.

&uot;He felt it was the biggest failure of his life,&uot; said Randall III.

&uot;But, if anything, it is the biggest thing he will be remembered for.&uot;

The ceremony honored Randall III and his wife with letters of appreciation from Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, a key to the city of Montevallo from various city officials who were present and many thanks from Walker and other staff members at The Village.

The collection of presidents and first ladies will be on view in a re-creation of the White House East Room, located in The American Village’s Oval Office until the new building is completed this September.

Visitors took a collective gasp when the presidents and first ladies were revealed, and a murmur rose about how real they seemed.

At the miniatures’ inception, Randall Jr. commissioned sculptors and artists from 11 states to research and execute the plan. Sketches and color slides were made and studied.

Photographs, drawings and costumes from the Smithsonian Institute were examined and widely known sculptors were engaged to create the mannequins, each sized for exact height, proportion and weight.

Buyers were sent to New York to secure fabric, and craftsmen were hired to detail the settings filled with authentic miniature dishes, utensils, lamps, stoves, weapons and microscopic jewelry.

The creation required more than 150,000 hours of research and construction and finally made its debut in 1963.

During the next several years, the museum traveled to 25 states, drawing thousands of visitors who lined up to see the showcase of American history.

&uot;My father was a visionary,&uot; said Randall III, &uot;and after a time, the museum was one of those dreams he put aside. Like all entrepreneurs and visionaries, he went on to the next idea.&uot;

The museum was stored away, he said, but its dream never forgotten.

&uot;I always thought my father was doing a great thing,&uot; Randall said. &uot;That’s why I decided to store the museum, until one day I would have the wherewithal to bring it out and put it in a permanent position. I believe the good Lord brought The American Village and us together. I knew when I visited the Village, I had found the museum’s perfect home.&uot;

Walker expressed his appreciation to Randall and his family.

&uot;The American Village is honored and grateful to the Randall family for providing us and our visitors with such a wonderful gift,&uot; he said.

&uot;This museum and the inspiring story behind the family which created it, serve as a symbol for what we teach here at the Village &045; that each of us is charged with the responsibility for making a difference in our communities, state and nation and by doing so, ensuring that our great heritage of liberty continues for all generations.

&uot;The Pettus Randall Miniature Museum of American History will be here for all our children and our children’s children as a reminder of that great legacy.&uot;