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Tiny houses become works of art

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, August 02, 2017 11:14PM

MaryLyn Yonika’s studio shelves are lined with representations of idyllic New England architecture. Capes with their jutting windows and gable roofs, the distinctive boxy look of the saltbox, and of course, the tall white steeples of the churches.

“I love New Hampshire houses,” said Yonika, picking up an example of her work – a stoneware cape house, painted in loving detail. “Especially from the 18th and 19th century.”

Starting this week, however, Yonika’s work will also be featured in the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s 84th Annual Craftsmen’s Fair. More than 200 craftsmen, working in all varieties of mediums, will be represented at this juried fair, including Yonika’s stoneware houses.

Yonika has a long history as an artist, formerly working as a graphic artist in Boston, but said she stumbled into her current specialization when she was looking for something unique to make for her son’s school craft fair in 1993.

Yonika borrowed a friend’s studio, clay and kiln, and created her first candle village. Her first attempt was patterned after a Bavarian village.

Quickly, she knew she wanted to make more. And just as quickly, she knew that she shouldn’t be using models of European architecture, but the classic New England styles that she saw and loved every day.

Now, said Yonika, those same stoneware houses, once an experiment for a one-time project, are her mainstay.

Yonika only makes about 100 figures a year, and her process works in stages. First, she gathers inspiration.

Most of her houses come from real-life models, which she finds her and there, said Yonika. The cape is similar to the house her parent’s lived in. The saltbox is a copy of of the home of a friend in Lunenberg. The “Maine house” is based off a type of construction she saw over and over again on a trip there.

As for picking a favorite?

“It’d be like choosing a favorite child,” said Yonika.

Yonika takes snaps of the architecture that strikes her fancy. But then the real work begins. And from start to finish, she said, producing her art takes almost a year.

The little houses that Yonika makes are fired in a kiln, she explained – which takes a significant amount of work and is only worth doing when the kiln is full. 

“I could never make just one,” she explained. 

First, comes making the molds, using plastic. Each little ridge of door frame and window means an extra layer on the mold, and Yonika has to work backwards to ensure that when she presses the mold into the clay, she gets the desired effect. She makes one wall at a time.

“Then I build it piece by piece, like gingerbread,” said Yonika. 

Once the houses are built, they must be dried – a process that can make or break the final product – before being fired. Then, they’re painted, a process that takes Yonika most of the summer.

“It really does take a year,” said Yonika. “I’ll be finishing painting houses into the fall.”

The houses can be used as candle holders, but people also buy them as display pieces or to decorate model train sets, said Yonika. Or sometimes, one house will just strike a chord of nostalgia for someone who grew up in a similar home. Yonika herself said she and her husband have a few favorites she’s made over the years that she keeps for display in her own home – although, she added, occasionally a batch will turn out a new “favorite” of a particular mold, causing her to swap out for a new model. 

Residents can see Yonika’s work, along with dozens of other juried artists, from Aug. 5 through Aug. 13, or by visiting her studio on Main Street in Wilton. For more information about the Fair, visit www.nhcrafts.org. For more information about Yonika, or to purchase her work,  visit www.stonewarehouses.com.