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"Dissonant Dioramas" Captivate Viewers with Story, Details, & Excellent Craftsmanship

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Trish Happel's PINKIE'S WORLD was the only diorama on display at a recent art show in Kavanaugh Gallery at the Fine Line Creative Arts Center in St. Charles, IL. Eerie and glowing with soft pink LEDs, it was impossible to walk by and not stare. The more you looked, the more you saw. Exquisite detail within challenged the viewer to ponder the story behind the stark urban landscape it depicted amid a rosy-glow skyline, and one happy creature overlooking the junkyard. Scroll down for more dioramas...

Creator, Trish Happel, excels at mixed media dioramas which she has been creating for the past eight years.

“I’m inspired by urban landscapes like junkyards of old cars, old rusty bridges, lonely landscapes with powerlines and smokestacks,” she says. “It’s that juxtaposition of decaying infrastructure against the romance of a sunset along with nature vs. industry – it takes you on a journey. Nature fights back in industrial lowlands. I want to evoke that aliveness amid urban decay and disquiet.”

Trish begins projects with backlit lighting – low LED lights attached within the diorama structure to lend a haunting feeling by creating vivid shadows. That element of light vs. dark adds to the compelling 3-D imagery in the foreground and enhances the overall mood of the finished piece.

She also likes to add touches of humor to an urban decay project such as she did in “Pinkie’s World” pictured above. A child’s tiny toy bunny and pink LEDs light the eerie junkyard landscape where that bunny presumably lived.

To make her dioramas, Trish scavenges for well-constructed drawers from old dressers and furniture, collects odds and ends like discarded computer keyboards, machine parts or child’s toy cars, never knowing where these little treasures will lead her on her creative journey. She enjoys hiding items within the diorama layers for viewers to discover as they visually explore its interior.

Trish builds them so securely, that the owner can turn it upside down and nothing will fall out of place. They are labor intensive with many steps to complete and weigh in at 15 to 20 pounds each. She encloses the front with museum glass. The diorama can be plugged into any outlet drawing very low energy. Prices begin around $1,000. She estimates she makes only three to four a year since each project takes a couple of months to finish.

Lately, she’s been tackling creating swamps, sci-fi imagery, and even building within motorcycle helmets as the exterior of the diorama. She accepts commissions, but because of the size and weight, does not ship.

“I’ve always been attracted to sealed worlds inside dollhouses and museum dioramas,” she concludes. “My biggest inspirations are the movie sets of Tim Burton, B movies, black humor in all forms and especially the films of David Lynch, including his new 2018 “Twin Peaks.”

Her website is:






Trish Happel with PINKIE'S WORLD at Kavanaugh Gallery in St. Charles, IL


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