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Broken windows: Truro artist captures essence of abandoned N.S. houses in miniature

Truro museum exhibits models, photos of abandoned houses

4 min read
A miniature house made by artist John Eaton on display
caption A miniature house made by artist John Eaton on display at the MMFI gallery in Truro, Nova Scotia. Eaton's show, Broken Windows: Abandoned Nova Scotia in Miniature is at the gallery for the month of November.
Giancarlo Cininni

Boarded-up doors, mossy roofs and rotting lumber sinking into the earth. Derelict houses are ubiquitous throughout rural Nova Scotia.

And while they may be abandoned, John Eaton doesn’t want them to be forgotten. The Truro artist has rebuilt these structures into sculptures that can fit palm of your hand.

For the month of November at the MMFI gallery in Truro, Broken Windows: Abandoned Nova Scotia in Miniature will exhibit Eaton’s work.

“I always enjoyed exploring the back roads of Nova Scotia and taking photographs of abandoned places,” Eaton said. “And one day it occurred to me, it’d be nice to make miniatures of some of these places,” he said.

John Eaton holds one of his miniature houses
caption John Eaton holds one of his miniature houses at the MMFI gallery in Truro, Nova Scotia on Thursday November 9, 2023. “Broken Windows: Abandoned Nova Scotia in miniature” will be showcasing Eaton’s work at the MMFI gallery for the month of November.
Giancarlo Cininni

The sculptures are modelled after houses across Nova Scotia, from Tangier on the Eastern Shore to Amherst, near the New Brunswick border. Each miniature is paired with a photo of the house it replicates, showcasing the fine detail of Eaton’s work, but also the strength of the medium, which provides a tangible, three-dimensional view.

Eaton’s detailed work, his paint-stained pants and his high-top skate shoes might convey the image of a seasoned artist, but he only started crafting miniatures in 2020.

“This is my first foray into the art world. I’ve never done anything like this before. This is crazy for me,” Eaton said.

“I modified Dinky toys, you know, just stuff. Nothing fancy … But I actually don’t have any real experience. This is me faking it as we go … I’m way outside,” he said.

 All of Eaton’s miniatures are made from recycled material.

“They are all made out of cardboard cereal boxes … things out of the junk drawer and pieces around the house,” he said. “All the window glass is made of spinach boxes from Sobeys, and it’s mostly Pop-Tarts boxes and cereal boxes and whatever’s around the house,” he said.

A miniature house made by artist John Eaton on display
caption A miniature house made by artist John Eaton on display at the MMFI gallery in Truro, Nova Scotia on Thursday November 9, 2023. “Broken Windows: Abandoned Nova Scotia in miniature” will be showcasing Eaton’s work at the MMFI gallery for the month of November.
Giancarlo Cininni

Eaton says each piece takes up to 10 to 12 hours to complete. “I usually put on an old movie and start making them. Some of them take like two or three old movies. Some of them take five or six old movies,” he said.

Exhibit visitor Joe Lock drove from New Glasgow to visit the exhibit after seeing Eaton’s work on Reddit. An avid miniaturist himself, he appreciates Eaton’s attention to detail. “I think it’s the fact that he’s got an eye for the beauty of the decay in real life and being able to replicate that with simple, like, recycled stuff,” Lock said.

For visitor Ovin Cameron, the models give him a sense of nostalgia. “When you look at these pictures here in front of you, you can see the crisp air on a cold morning when you drive by a house that looks like everyone’s forgotten it. You can feel it,” said Cameron.

Ovin Cameron and his daughter appreciate a miniature sculpture
caption Ovin Cameron and his daughter appreciate a miniature sculpture at the MMFI gallery in Truro, Nova Scotia on Thursday November 9, 2023. “Broken Windows: Abandoned Nova Scotia in miniature” will be showcasing John Eaton’s work at the MMFI gallery for the month of November.
Giancarlo Cininni

“I think, for me in particular, growing up rurally and seeing these places, and growing up in some of these houses that are now abandoned, I think it connects the people to their roots,” he said.

Visitor Sam Dill says the exhibit reflects a history of community in Nova Scotia.

“I can smell meals being cooked, children crying when they hurt themselves, children laughing … people getting together to create a home, security, love for their families. It’s also where people were born and people died and celebrated,” Dill said. “It’s like an old spirit. Just taking his last breath,” she said.

For Eaton that old spirit is a built heritage that is fading away.

“It’s being bulldozed. It’s being torn down. It’s being turned into condos and things,” he said. “It’s exciting to me to be able to preserve them, even if it’s just a miniature.”

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About the author

Giancarlo Cininni

Giancarlo Cininni is completing his fourth year of the BJH program. He has experience reporting in Brazil and Canada. When he is not staring...

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