Lee loves seeing the world in miniature
Lee Smithson knows every detail of the iconic Park Hill flats by heart - every window, every brick, every railing.
His familiarity is the result of an unusual project; recreating the city landmark in an exact replica - currently standing six inches tall on the table in front of him.
The likeness is remarkable. Each tiny window measures 5ml by 8ml, complete with the famous red, orange and yellow brick colour scheme. The entire thing is made out of laser-cut plywood and took Lee five weeks to complete.
“This is one of my favourites of all the things I’ve worked on,” smiles Lee, the Sheffield model marker who spends his days reproducing things - from sights around the city to household objects - as miniature models.
He recently completed work on a working model of Shepherd Wheel grinding workshop in the Porter Valley, which is currently on display at Weston Park Museum. His day job, as an electronics engineer, means that he has been able to apply his knowledge of electronics to a number of his models, giving them working mechanisms and/or lighting, such as the coal fire on the Shepherd Wheel which lights up and flickers.
“I’ve always enjoyed building things, even rebuilding car enignes when I was younger,” says the 36-year-old, of Malin Bridge.
“I started out making plastic model kits as a child and then began to modify the models, challenging myself to make miniature replicas of my father’s work vans by modifying Diecast models.
“The first thing I ever made from scratch, in miniature, was a gift for my wife, a violin, about three inches long, out of wood. She absolutely loved it and it set something off, so I began making other things as gifts for people. I made each of our parents miniature replicas of their homes and recreated a local Victorian Habadashery shop. I just started experimenting with the level of detail I could achieve and how small I could make things.”
It wasn’t long before Lee’s family began pushing him to take his hobby further and set up a website showing off his work and advertising his services.
“One of my first commissions was a replica of Ashoka Indian restaurant, on Ecclesall Road,” smiles Lee, who launched Sheffield Miniatures last year, alongside his job as clinical engineer at Northern General Hospital.
“Since then I’ve replicated quite a few parts of Castle Market, some more houses and, of course, the Park Hill flats model.
“I’m a born and bred Sheffield man and my family has a long history in the city so I have a lot of love for it. There are so many places throughout Sheffield I’d love to recreate, given the chance.
“I generally make the models based on photographs alone, but I am able to work to any scale and any level of detail required. I have a hell of a lot of ideas and actually really enjoy recreating things that have gone now.
“I’d love to have a go at St Paul’s Church, that used to be in the Peace Gardens, though I’m not sure there’s enough archived detail avaiable to recreate it as I’d like to.
“Another personal project that I’m working on at the minute is a model of High Bradfield Church, as I’ve recently learned how to recreate stain glass windows, so I’m having a go at that now, and then am planning to light that whole thing from inside.”
And Lee has just received a commission to recreate the city’s famous Leadmill nightclub.
“It’s wonderful to be turning something I enjoy doing so much into a business,” he confirms.
“I converted the cellar room in our house into a workspace, which is currently littered with miniatures. Obviously I’m self-taught and I’ve picked up almost everything I need to know via Google and YouTube tutorials, so I’m having a great time experimenting and trying lots of different things.
“I am able to make bespoke commission items and would consider any private or museum work, regardless of size.
“My family have been hugely supportive too, I even roped my wife in to help me paint the Shepherd Wheel!”
Visit www.sheffieldminiatures.co.uk for more details.