UT Tyler Supporter Reconstructs the Past...
Builds a Better Future
The same vision, creativity and attention to detail she uses to reconstruct the past is applied to building the future right here in Tyler.
Mildred Grinstead knows what it takes to build something amazing – perseverance, creativity, vision and attention to detail.
She has used these traits to construct incredibly accurate miniature models, shells and room box displays for decades.
The Tyler resident has created detailed models of historical homes for permanent display at the Virginia Historical Society Museum of Virginia History in Richmond, Va., as well as Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.
Some of her displays include historic 18th century Virginia structures like the Wilton house, the Westover home and the Governors Palace at Colonial Williamsburg. She also built a model of SMU's Dallas Hall, Baltimore's Homewood and others.
"I just love architecture," Grinstead said. "I think my passion began when I was just a little girl. I liked dolls, but was not terribly taken with them. But when my father had a doll house built for me, that got me started. I still have the doll house."
With her grandmother's help, Grinstead made furniture for the house. "There were not very many places that sold miniature furniture back then," she said. "I would make chandeliers out of old jewelry." She used small boxes to make furniture.
Then when her sons were teens, Grinstead remembers buying a model kit to make an Early American historical miniature structure. She never looked back. She used modeling kits to build her first three homes, but has since built miniatures from scratch.
"My youngest son Jay was always good at building things so we had that in common," she said. "He taught me how to do a lot. When Jay entered college in Virginia, I fell in love with historic homes in the region.''
Her hobby soon caught the attention of the Virginia Historical Society. The Wilton house, which was originally owned by William Randolph III, was her first project for the museum there. The plantation home was built between 1750 and 1753 in tidewater Virginia.
In the 1930s, when the two-story Wilton was about to be torn down, the Virginia Society of Colonial Dames raised money to purchase it and had it moved, brick by brick, to the James River, about six miles from Richmond, Va., Grinstead said.
"I thought it was one of the most beautiful homes and thought it would be a good model for a miniature," she said. "It took about six years. I used blueprints and photos to get all the details."
She drafted the blueprints and drawings down to a miniature scale of 1 inch to 1 foot that she used to build the authentic miniature replica. Today, it is complete with miniature furniture of the time period and on permanent display by the Virginia Historical Society.
Grinstead also builds shadow boxes that display a single room of miniature furniture, walls and art. "After building several model houses, I had collected a large amount of incredible miniatures from builders in America and Europe," she said. "Looking for a way to display the miniatures in small spaces, I began to create the room shadow boxes."
Thousands who visit museums in Virginia and other locations across the country enjoy Grinstead's rooms and miniature structures that remember and honor the past.
Constructing a Better Future
"She loves UT Tyler and is one of our greatest ambassadors in the community," said Larry E. Wickham, UT Tyler director of gift planning.
Grinstead is a member of the UT Tyler Development Board and has established several endowed scholarships for engineering students, Wickham noted. "UT Tyler is grateful to have someone like Mrs. Grinstead help build a better future for students and the community.''
Foundation in the Community
When she moved to Tyler in 1980 with her husband Fred, a geologist, and sons Edward and Jay, Grinstead was thrilled that the community had such a rich cultural influence – from art museums to performing arts and historical architecture.
UT Tyler is an important part of the community culturally and educationally, she said. "There are so many things that UT Tyler has to offer."
Her involvement with UT Tyler began with Friends of the Arts. "I audited some classes in history and art and loved it," she recalled. "I helped with efforts to open the Cowan Center and think it is important."
In addition to the arts, UT Tyler's focus on other areas of study – like engineering – is just as critical, said Grinstead, whose son Jay is an aerospace engineer for NASA.
"I decided to sponsor engineering scholarships because of Jay," she said. "It is important to my son and important to me. I think any type of education is worthy of support."
UT Tyler is grateful for friends like Grinstead who are helping to build a better for future for UT Tyler students and the community.
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