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Safety issues force 'Dollhouse' artist to raze rural attraction

A prized Prairie attraction, the “Dollhouse,” was torched by its creator, Heather Benning, on March 21. Benning said it was emotional to burn an art project that she had invested so much of herself in.

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A prized Prairie attraction, the “Dollhouse,” was torched by its creator, Heather Benning, on March 21. Benning said it was emotional to burn an art project that she had invested so much of herself in.

A rustic art exhibit that paired the essence of living on the Prairies with the imagination of a young child was burned to the ground by its creator March 21.

The “Dollhouse” in the summer of 2012. The art exhibit attracted visitors from all across Canada to its unique interpretation of Prairie life combined with whimsical youth.

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The “Dollhouse” in the summer of 2012. The art exhibit attracted visitors from all across Canada to its unique interpretation of Prairie life combined with whimsical youth. (SUBMITTED)

The "Dollhouse," which opened in the summer of 2007 near Sinclair, was torched by artist Heather Benning, who transformed the abandoned farm house into the life-sized children’s toy.

Benning said it was emotional watching a project that she had invested so much time and energy into burn to the ground.

"It was a bit of relief, but it was also sad."

Benning said the house caught her attention while she was in the artist in residency program in Redvers, Saskatchewan. One day, while driving to Brandon for arts supplies she spotted it out of the corner of her eye. She pulled over, peeked in the windows and immediately the project began to take shape.

She also knew due to the home’s crumbling foundation that at some point it would become a safety hazard. Ultimately, liability concerns caused her to torch the home — but just prior, she said she shared a moment with her work.

"I always knew it would have to be demolished and we figured it was better if we did than if it got vandalized," she said. "Now it stands as a memory object."

Benning poured 18 months of blood, sweat and tears into the project, replacing the north-facing wall of the house with Plexiglas, showcasing its fully restored candy-coloured wall and furniture from the era the home was abandoned.

Today, Benning lives in northeastern Saskatchewan helping her father on the family farm, which gives her enough time to still pursue her art career.

"The Dollhouse was my last big project because they aren’t cheap projects to undertake," Benning said.

"It’s also very tough to sell," she joked. "You can’t really sell a house that doesn’t belong to you and is abandoned on the Prairies."

Benning will release a short documentary soon, featuring shots of building the home through to its destruction.

"We got a lot of photographs before we lit it up," she said. "I wanted it to reflect a lot of cheer and joy, but it also had the juxtaposition of the old exterior which was abandoned, which brought you back to reality."

» ctweed@brandonsun.com

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 9, 2013

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A rustic art exhibit that paired the essence of living on the Prairies with the imagination of a young child was burned to the ground by its creator March 21.

The "Dollhouse," which opened in the summer of 2007 near Sinclair, was torched by artist Heather Benning, who transformed the abandoned farm house into the life-sized children’s toy.

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A rustic art exhibit that paired the essence of living on the Prairies with the imagination of a young child was burned to the ground by its creator March 21.

The "Dollhouse," which opened in the summer of 2007 near Sinclair, was torched by artist Heather Benning, who transformed the abandoned farm house into the life-sized children’s toy.

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