Dale Varner model of Disneyland

Dale Varner's Disneyland EmporiumOn permanent display at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum is Dale Varner’s model of Disneyland. He worked on these models for over 40 years – while living in Oregon and working off of photographs.

Dale passed away in 2009 with still unfinished pieces, which are also included in the exhibit.

Below is an article from the Patriot Ledger from 2008

by Polly Taylor, Patriot Ledger
Posted Sep. 21, 2008 at 12:01 AM
Marceline, Mo.

Artist recreates Disneyland in miniature

California native and miniaturist extraordinaire Dale Varner of Milwaukie, Ore., arrived in Marceline, Mo., on Wednesday to begin arranging, touching up and making minor repairs to the scale version of Disneyland that he has been working on for more than 40 years.

The miniature is on permanent public display at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in the Missouri town.

Varner, who suffered a somewhat debilitating case of rheumatic fever as a child, became interested in creating miniatures with the encouragement of his parents.

His brother made model cars and planes, which did not appeal to him; however, he was interested in creating miniatures. So, the budding artist turned his love of Disneyland into a serious lifelong hobby of recreating the buildings, rides, and scenery back in the early ‘60s.

To date, he has visited Disneyland no less than 50 times. He has also been to Disney World, but feels that Disneyland is the place that truly brings Walt Disney’s dream to life.

The miniaturist contacted Walt Disney by letter in 1964, asking if he could obtain photos of the park. Disney forwarded the letter to the publicity department, and Varner has since collected literally hundreds of publicity photos. He has also taken a vast number of photos himself when at the park studying the particular architecture of the different buildings.

When Varner first began creating the miniatures, he used colored paper, which meant the structures would last two, perhaps three, years at the most. Since that time, he discovered that if he used pebble-board, which is lightweight and about 1/16” thick, to create texture and paint the individual pieces, he can extend the lives of his creations from two or three years to 30 years.

He said that oftentimes, people who view his work will ask him where he gets the ‘kits’ to build his miniatures from. They are almost always surprised to hear that he has never used a kit. Every piece that he has created is the result of a plan he has drawn for the different buildings, with the exception of the Matterhorn.

Some of the materials he uses in addition to the pebble-board are small pieces of wood, thread, hat pins, straight pins, and lace. He uses gelatin capsules for the street lamps and makes the individual bricks for some of the buildings with ordinary file cards.

Varner said that in the beginning, he used colored paper for the buildings, but now paints each structure so that if the color scheme changes, the models can be painted to reflect the change.

The very first Disney miniature Varner created was the Sleeping Beauty castle. However, over the years he has recreated it many times, with the one that will be on display being the newest. It is his favorite piece, and feels it embodies what Walt Disney originally wanted the park to be, a place where fantasy comes to life and families can have fun.

Varner has not visited the Disney parks in Japan or Europe, although he wants very much to visit Disneyland Paris. The pictures he has seen of the Sleeping Beauty castle show a more “fairytale-ish structure that looks like it grew right out of the landscape, and is the finest piece of architecture I’ve ever seen“

Disney-Varner letterThe letter referenced in the article is shown here. It now belongs to a private collector, but the message from Walt is wonderful:

July 23, 1964

Dear Dale Varner –

I have forwarded your letter to Disneyland and if there any pictures available which will give you the background you need I’m sure they will be happy to send them to you.

From the slides you have sent (which I am returning) it looks like you’re doing a good job. Something like this can be a very rewarding hobby. Keep up the good work.

With all best wishes.


Walt Disney

Children enjoy the Disneyland model