Holly Chaffin has created a tiny little world onto itself.
It’s called Mouseville and to see it is to be transported to another place, a miniature realm where imagination is key.
Chaffin is co-owner at Swerve Off the Path on Broad Street, an art studio. When a tornado struck in 2020, there were building materials left over from repairs to her home. She said all those materials made her imagine a tiny, interactive town she could create using them.
And Mouseville was born.
The one-foot high, six-foot long art installation features The Squeakeasy Bar & Grille, an art gallery named Despereaux Tillings Fine Art, a thrift store named Mr. Jingles Hidey Hole (Purveyor of Fine Salvage), and Reepicheep’s Sweetshop. Visitors are encouraged to take in every tiny detail created by artist Holly Chaffin, co-owner of Swerve.
“It was just me who created all this,” Chaffin said. “But I do have two friends who when I first started doing this, we’d discuss it every week. I’d send them pictures of my progress and they kept me motivated. We spent a lot of time researching mice in literature.”
The entire project took about six months and the end result is what Chaffin called sort of a miniature Broad Street.
Mouseville storefronts mimic the architecture found in Rome’s downtown district and are filled with creative miniature representations of what anthropomorphic mice might enjoy in their daily lives. The Squeakeasy pours house beers labeled “Mad Dog Ale” and “Mad Cat Ale,” taxidermized cheeses from around the world hang on the wall, and posters advertising The Three Blind Mice as local music hang in the window.
Despereaux Tillings Fine Art displays many paintings including an original “Mouse with A Pearl Earring” along with pottery and sculpture. At Mr. Jingles Hidey Hole, clothes, furniture, and knick-knacks are for sale. Reepicheep’s Sweetshop is complete with mouse-sized candy, cakes, and sweets.
In the spirit of “attention to every detail,” Mousevilles’s alley includes graffitti to Free Algeron!, donation bins for the thrift shop, and a break area for those mouseworkers in need of a smoke.
“Wrought iron” stairs lead up to the roof where mice can be imagined basking in the garden or dipping their paws in the fountain. Even Mouseville’s utilities are represented.
“The first response I got was from a customer’s son,” Chaffin said. “His mom was there to paint pottery and he wasn’t really interested in doing that. This was the day I was installing (Mouseville). It was sitting on a table. That little boy spent four hours just staring at it and pointing at different little details. When he was leaving he said ‘thank you for making this.’ It blew me away,” Chaffin added. “He was so intrigued by it.”
It’s the details that make Mouseville so remarkable. One of the aspects of the piece that visitors might not appreciate is the electrical work. You can’t just plug miniature lamps and lights into a regular wall socket.
“The electrical system gave me fits,” Chaffin said. “That was completely out of my wheelhouse. I did all kinds of research, read articles, called electricians, I just finally had to start doing it and hope for the best. I spent eight hours one day and had it all working. Then I added one more little lamp and I blew the whole thing out and had to start over.”
Chaffin said she had originally intended for Mouseville to sit outside on the curb in front of Swerve. But after all the work she put into it, she decided it was probably better off inside the store. So she built a special shelf in the window where it’s visible to passersby and customers.
“This was a great escape for me,” she said of the time spent on the project. “I’m sure my family is glad to have me back because it was very time consuming. And there’s still a long list of ideas in a notebook that could be added if I wanted to. So you never know. One day there could be even more to Mouseville than there is now.”
Visitors can view the front of Mouseville for free any time at 108 Broad Street in Rome. Visit swerveoffthepath.com for store hours or call 706-346-5429 for more information.