BN Miniature Works Creates Bitty Scenes in High Falls

Adobe Stock / Valeryia

Artist, restaurateur, and retired teacher Brigitte Nagle celebrates all things small at her BN Miniature Works studio in High Falls.

How does one become a professional miniatures artist? Brigitte Nagle, the eponym of BN Miniature Works in High Falls, thinks it might have something to do with her childhood. Her father was a rodeo cowboy, and she had to entertain herself while he was entertaining an audience. “Back in my early childhood,” Nagle recalls, “you played outside, found rocks and sticks and things to do.” Nagle’s search for “things to do” landed her beneath the grandstands, creating scenes out of found materials as her father wowed the crowd above her. “I always had this in me,” she says.

As Nagle entered sixth grade, her family settled in the Hudson Valley. Still, she toiled away at diminutive crafts in her new locale. “I would make boxes with houses, cut [out] pictures and rugs and sofas,” she remembers. Nagle’s talent even caught the attention of her sixth grade teacher, Mr. Hellenschmidt, who fostered her artistic abilities.

Ultimately, it was not the arts but teaching that Nagle studied at SUNY New Paltz. Over the course of the next few decades, she taught sixth grade history. And when she wasn’t teaching, she was at The Spy, a High Falls eatery she has co-owned with its chef—who also happens to be her husband, George—for the past 30 years.

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Then, just before the pandemic, she retired from teaching. That was when her creative impulses “just barfed out,” as Nagle puts it herself. “I picked up a paintbrush, took a watercolor class, [and] I started making things [in] my basement.” As her skills blossomed, she longed for a studio space that would allow visitors to stroll through, engage with her work, and—if they felt inclined—buy something.

So it’s only fitting that, on the day Nagle opened BN Miniature Works this past July, Mr. Hellenschmidt walked through the door. They had kept in touch on Facebook, but she hadn’t seen him in the flesh since her days of constructing “shoebox troll house creations” at recess. Mr. Hellenschmidt left with a painting that hadn’t been for sale. “Of course it’s for sale,” he insisted.

Since opening the storefront, Nagle has taken on a range of commissions, making miniscule replicas of family homes and musical instruments and everything in between. At first, she admits, business was slow—window shoppers would saunter through the store with their arms behind their backs, “as if they were in a museum.”

Indeed, the space’s pristineness can at first feel intimidating. Awash with natural light, BN Miniature Works is something of a municipality for three-inch people. Scenes she has created as an example of her capabilities commingle with restored collectables. Every piece is situated in a tableau; as you browse a wall lined with square compartments—approximately a cubic foot each—it feels as though you’re a giant peering into the just-abandoned apartments of pocket-size people. Impressively, Nagle’s knack for storytelling is on par with her dexterity.

Despite a slow start, little by little, foot traffic led to more custom orders. Nagle’s work is, relatively speaking, affordable—intricate projects can get pricey, but individual custom pieces cost as little as $20. She is currently working on a large-scale project portraying a family’s trip to Disney World. Another of Nagle’s recent creations depicts a cozy corner in one woman’s home, allowing her to bring the familiar memento to an assisted living facility. A miniature is the perfect “document,” if you will, to perpetuate a memory, as its delicateness is rivaled only by the delicateness of the moment it represents. “Storytelling is at the heart of everything I make,” Nagle muses.

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You can visit Nagle’s studio Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., and Wednesday and Thursday by appointment. Additionally, she offers two-hour classes. No prior experience is necessary. Most classes cost around $50, which includes a materials fee and light refreshments.

Related: StellaRay Is All About Slow, Ethical Fashion in the Hudson Valley

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