It certainly is a small world that will be on display at Cairns Museum from now until December. Eleven tiny but perfectly formed room suites are the work of one man – master wood craftsman and gifted miniaturist Les Paul.
The late Mr Paul was a lifelong resident of Cairns and his downsizing arose from his profession of cabinet making. He turned his love of wood and furniture design and creation into a hobby, turning out Lilliputian-sized rooms in replica complete with wallpaper, artworks and all kinds of accessories.
Les Paul’s family have donated his rooms to the Cairns Historical Society and they will be displayed at the museum from September 7 until December. From 1937 onwards until the mid-1980s, he made the 11 complete room suites of furniture plus numerous single pieces. They are built on a scale of 1:6 (2 inches to one foot/ 5cm to 30cm).
Mr Paul brought all his skills of cabinetmaking to the task, as well as being a qualified glazier. If he didn’t have the right tool to do a precise job, or it didn’t exist – he made one. The suites are beautiful renditions of full-sized bedrooms, living and dining room suites, shaped from Queensland maple and red cedar, silky oak, Kauri and Huon pine.
“Fiddly” doesn’t even begin to describe the patience and skills needed to make the pieces. For Mr Paul there was no such thing as just glueing things together – the assembly follows his craft with mitres, dovetails, mortise and tenon joints – in miniature. Not a single nail or staple was used either.
The suites are housed in glass-fronted boxes and are completed by accessories to finish the rooms – carpet, wallpaper, bedspreads and clothes made by Mr Paul’s daughter Audrey (pictured right) and crocheted doilies made by Mr Paul’s wife.
Audrey Robins (nee Paul) says her dad made the first suite when out of work in 1937.
“He was not sports-minded at all and he said to mum ‘Oh, I think I’ll make a little miniature bedroom suite’, and that’s how he got started in 1937.”
He retired in 1974 and Audrey says that is when he started to make a complete suite a year. If he didn’t make a full suite one year he would instead work on individual pieces, “just for something different”.
Les Paul would only tell his family what he was working on and local artists. “Nobody would get a sneak preview except us and artists like Ulla Jensen, Sheila Forbes, and Xavier Herbert.” They would provide the tiny artworks to hang in the rooms. “They would say to him – ‘Pauley [that was his nickname] we just know just the painting for that’ and they would go away and do a tiny oil painting on canvas and dad would frame it.” The goodwill was mutual with Mr Paul making the frames for many artists around Cairns.
Once finished the suites were popular and word of mouth ensured plenty of visitors at the Paul family home. The first visitors’ book from July 5, 1976 to August 10, 1981 had 1651 signatures. They wouldn’t be charged a cent and many would be given a little handmade rolling pin as a memento.
Audrey says her fondest memory of her dad’s work is seeing him in the “little old shed” making his miniatures as well as full-size furniture for their home. The suites are amazingly intricate. A miniature drawing-room in silky oak, for instance, took more than 320 hours of work – that’s two months full-time work – and has 657 pieces. He never sold any but did take them to the annual Torimba Wood festival where he was a frequent Grand Champion, Champion of Champions and People’s Choice winner.
Mr Paul died in 1992 and his collection has been looked after ever since by Mrs Robins and her late husband George. The donation to the Historical Society and exhibition at the museum fulfils her dad’s wishes. “He wanted to see the collection in a museum one day, not for it to be split up and he never wanted it to leave Cairns.”