(Photo: Kelsey Campion/Marrow Creative)
Whether it’s via her mail-order mysteries crafted out of correspondence between long-dead citizens of New Orleans or her shop selling hand-crafted miniatures, Lady Delaney is always creating small worlds.
The miniatures artist who now calls New Orleans home has made a living doing what all great storytellers do: saying something about the (much) larger world in a contained, scale-model version of it.
That Delaney would be so skilled at sucking people into vest-pocket stories makes sense. The urge to shrink things down and create something new runs in the family.
“My grandpa had made dollhouses for his granddaughters and for my grandma. He’d make these beautiful dollhouses and so growing up we always made little things for them,” she said in a recent interview with Very Local.
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"…She could not get her big toe into it, and the shoe was too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife and said, 'Cut the toe off, when you are queen you will have no more need to go on foot.' The maiden cut the toe off, forced the foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the king's son…" 📚📖📚 #brothersgrimm
Delaney grew up making miniatures as well as other craft projects at her family’s kitchen table. She says that one year she made an box of personalized miniatures for her grandmother’s dollhouse to give as a Christmas gift, including a small-scale version of her grandmother’s wedding dress and family portraits and the urge to keep crafting stuck with her.
Delaney said that she began selling the miniatures as a “way to justify making them.”
“It was a surprise to learn that people were interested in what I was making,” she said.
That justification grew into a full-blown career crafting custom miniatures and mysteries for people to get lost in. She launched a series of subscription boxes, telling a dense story built around her skill-set.
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I beg your indulgence, Instagators, for my recent absence on the grams. But my associates and I have been remarking on some strange turnings in the air. It’s just about time I filled you in. Can I entrust you with a miniature secret…or two? 📷 & turban @marrowcreative #nolamysteryseekers #secretsociety #onetimeinnola
“I thought, ‘I have this talent for forging historical documents and I have people who really love my miniature work so I’m going to see if I can create a mystery that dives deep into storytelling.”
After that initial run, she decided to try a documents-only mailer that would lay out another mystery. The resulting series, Letters From Dead People, extended the dollhouse universe with ghostly stories via convincingly aged papers.
“People have different access points for history. Some people like to go to museums. Some people like to dress up as re-enactors. Some people watch films,” Delaney explained of the impetus behind her series. “And I think that one of the ways that people sympathize with people of the past is through ghost stories. It’s one way to kind of enjoy the drama that people were going through.”
Delaney said that she’s seen an intense reaction from the people who decide to take on her mysteries, with some participants mailing back speculation about her characters.
“People get so immersed in this world. It’s really fun and exciting,” she said. “Most of these are cooked up alone in my office apartment. It’s fun to see them take on a life of their own.”
In New Orleans, she’s found an entire city that loves a good story as much as she does. She used that go-along-with-it spirit to help build her latest case, hiding 13 small tombs in businesses throughout the city and giving people a case file to hopefully help find them.
“When I first discovered New Orleans I was totally enchanted by the architecture, the music and the food, all those really kind of tangible things you could put your fingers on. Since moving here, I have discovered the most incredible community of people,” she said. “They are who you go to with weird hair-brained schemes. When you go to [NAME REDACTED] and say ‘Hey, I want to hide a miniature tomb in your [SAME]’ and they’re on board with it. That’s just not true of every city.”
In fact, when we spoke to Delaney, she had just received a mysterious package of her own. Inside a series of ever-smaller envelopes, she found a message to go to a hotel on Gravier St. She had the cavalier attitude about it that you might expect from someone who regularly conjures ghosts in her ever-expanding mysteries.
“Hopefully, it’s not my untimely end.”