Magnum Opus | Lake Minnetonka

At first glance, you might think their story began with a chance meeting in Oakland, Calif., With a Parisian designer. He is an aspiring novelist from Normandy. Their love story seems to be traveling to a private French island, a picturesque village in Provence, the Victorian San Francisco and the fjords of Norway.

In reality, Renée and Philippe matter of heart started in the creative mind of Dureen Ruff of Plymouth, a craftsman of miniatures and creator of The Cage Series, a quintet of bird cages transformed into miniature houses through Ruff’s impeccable research, attention to detail and artistry .

Every artist needs a muse, and the fictional lives of Renee and Philippe provided Ruff with the ambitious basis for his series of bird cages, created from 1999 to 2003.

To understand the story behind Ruff’s creations, you almost have to start from the beginning. In the 1960s, Ruff, under the artist name of d. Anne, created small paintings and sculptures, which were sold at Marion Nellermoe’s gift shop in Wayzata and in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. Go forward a decade and she made an exclusive two-year deal with The Children’s Shop in Wayzata and White Bear Lake, where her handcrafted miniature upholstered furniture was sold. Dayton’s also sold the line, as did Marshall Field’s of Chicago. Her work was then sold at trade shows across the country, which she attended at no less than 8-10 shows a year. A global mail order company also offered Ruff’s products, and some can still be found online through their Etsy site and other collectors.

Ruff developed a number of processes for creating miniature items, and then she came up with kits that helped other miniaturists create items themselves. Ruff’s pretty pleated pleats, which helps pleat the fabric for miniature curtains, is still available for purchase.

Wayzata gave Ruff another creative avenue in 1999 through an upscale furniture store, where she spotted a $ 200 two-story wood and metal birdcage tucked away alone on a top shelf. “I looked at it and thought I could make two pieces in this bird cage,” she says. Six weeks later, La Cage de l’Ile was created and sold for thousands of dollars to a buyer in British Columbia at a miniature show in Chicago.

The following year, his Chateau La Cage bed and breakfast was sold at a trade show in Philadelphia to a buyer in Wheeling, West Virginia, for double the price of the first cage. Understand that these miniature houses are not your standard dollhouses. These are true works of art, with Ruff meticulously researching the locations of the cages, including historical references and decorating styles (color stories, furniture styles, etc.).

A third buyer lined up for La Cage Atelier before Ruff even started working there. Now is where the story gets a little more personal. “By the time I finished it, I felt it was me… I just couldn’t sell it,” Ruff says. Her husband, Rick, encouraged her to call the buyer, who graciously understood Ruff’s reluctance and offered to buy the next cage.

But, this sale never took place. Ruff then created three more cages, all of which are now on display in his house. “There was so much of me in them that I just couldn’t part with it,” she said. “As I walk around and look at them, I remember all the decisions I made when decorating them.” Although she has traveled a lot, Ruff lives a bit vicariously through Renée and Philippe and their dream homes. “I look at the cages and think about my characters and their relationships,” she says.

The idea of ​​the couple was born during the creation of the first cage. “As I was putting it together, I thought, ‘Who would live in there?’ I created this little story about them, ”says Ruff. Since they once lived so deeply in his imagination and creative forces, does Ruff “miss” Renée and Philippe? “No,” she said. “They’re still sort of sitting in my memory. Their stories are always with me in the cages that I have.

Artists sometimes suffer from regrets about creative decisions. While Ruff sees the fruits of her daily labor, does she also want to “renovate” the bird cages? “No,” she said. “I can answer very firmly. I like the way I made them.

It is interesting to consider where its creative force comes from. “I’ve been interested in drawing and creating since I was a little girl,” says Ruff. “It’s just who I am. We are all given certain talents or interests, and this one has been with me since I was young. “

Given his successful career in the world of miniatures, one is curious as to whether Ruff had a dollhouse growing up in Grand Forks, ND Surprisingly, she didn’t. “I used boxes [butter boxes and other food containers] and created the small bedrooms like a child, ”she says. “My grandmother [Helen Johnson] taught me to sew, so fabrics have always been a part of my life. Ruff adds, “I came into this world with a particular pattern of creativity, so I enjoyed… whatever I could do with my hands.”

Miniature masterpieces

To celebrate Ruff’s 90th birthday last February, his children Sue Wellman, Kris Ruff, Steve Ruff and Anne Marie Ruff Grewal wrote Miniature Masterpieces: The Cage Series (Open Door Press), a tribute to the artistic magnum opus of their mother.

“…” “We were really happy to have the opportunity to see our mother’s work a little more objectively and truly appreciate the remarkable works of art she had made.”

“We have gained a new respect for his talents,” said Kris Ruff, also noting that “his creativity has certainly had a great influence on all of us.”

“Having this book is just exciting for me,” says Ruff. “It’s a beautiful book.”

While it is certainly a treasured family keepsake, miniature lovers might find it a wonderful addition to their collections. ($ 49.95 at

The book not only visually highlights The Cage Series, it also provides a closer look at each structure and sheds light on Renée and Philippe’s life together. While this section looks a lot like a treat for a miniseries or a feature film, Ruff prefers that Renée and Philippe not live on the big screen, but hidden in his imagination.

La Cage de l’Ile — Island Retreat

During their honeymoon, Renée and Philippe buy a dilapidated two-story structure on a private French island. They make it a retreat, where Philippe writes, and Renée draws on her creativity. Decor includes Chippendale-style upholstered furniture to reflect Renée’s French origins, and a bamboo-style cabinet contains Philippe’s first edition rare book collection. Note: The upholstered dome on the second floor replicates a treatment Ruff used on the walls of her own master bedroom, and the living room’s architectural books and magazines are reproductions of actual reference materials she used for the project.

Château La Cage Chambre d’Hôte – Bed and Breakfast

Aunt Sophie de Philippe transformed her chateau in Provence into a bed and breakfast, and she asked the couple to create a cage-like structure for their garden. It is used as a bridal cottage for couples renting Sophie’s castle for weddings. Customers will find ceramic roosters and chickens from Sophie’s collection. Note: The top of the dresser features a painted faux marble finish, which is a tribute to Ruff’s grandfather, who used the technique in the public buildings he was commissioned to paint in North Dakota.

La Cage Atelier – Renée’s creative studio

Renée dreamed of starting her own design business. Once sales of Philippe’s novels took off, they could well have afforded such an enterprise, and she left the job of Maison de Fortuny, the venerable Italian fabric house. The place was a pastry shop, and the renovation revealed that the original ceilings had been painstakingly painted by a local artist in 1763. Note: This piece reflects some of Ruff’s passions, including the blue and white porcelain from the second story art. She also likes fabrics, the bolts of which are placed in a room on the second floor.

La Cage Victoriana – San Francisco magpie-a-Earth

Renee’s former colleague and her husband commissioned Renee to renovate a gardener’s house behind a Victorian house, which is now a growing architectural firm. Renee uses dark red and soft cream colors. The interior of the structure is inspired by the American writer Edith Wharton. Note: The crossword book and dictionary on the small bedroom table are a nod to Ruff’s daily crossword habit.

The Cage Norge – Norwegian Stabbur

Renée and Philippe visit Renée’s mother, Monique, who lives on her new husband’s farm in Norway. The couple stay in a traditional stabbur, which has been converted into a guest cabin. Plot: Renée and Philippe announce the imminent arrival of their baby. The stabbur features traditional Norwegian colors, décor and alcove beds. Note: The framed photograph on the shelf in one of the alcoves is Ruff’s grandmother, Helen Johnson. The Singer sewing machine looks a lot like the one Johnson used to sew Ruff’s clothes.

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