Tiny dollhouse art raises big bucks for pups

by Len Lear
Posted 8/24/23

Making teeny little figurines for dollhouses has to be harder than trigonometry, but Nan Altman spends a good part of her life on it while turning over every penny to charity.

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Tiny dollhouse art raises big bucks for pups


Making teeny little figurines for dollhouses has to be harder than trigonometry, but Nan Altman, a resident of Wyndmoor for the last 18 years and Erdenheim for 19 years before that, spends a good part of her life on it (and a great deal of money on the parts) while turning over every penny she makes to charity. Altman, 72, is not a Good Samaritan; she is a Great Samaritan.  

“Nan's beautifully handcrafted rooms are incredibly detailed and reminiscent of Parisian cafés,” said Amanda de Bruc, Parisian native and co-owner of Matines Cafe, 89 Bethlehem Pike in Chestnut Hill, which held an outdoor flea market recently in which Altman was selling her wares.

Navigating Altman's basement and workshop is like being Alice in Wonderland. It is chockablock with wall-to-wall parts of every imaginable size, color and description. 

“If I had my life to do over, I'd be an interior designer,” Altman said. “Even the men in my family did artistic stuff. It's a hobby. My husband plays golf, and I do this. It gets me out of the house meeting and talking to new people (at fairs, flea markets and other events where crafts are sold). It is not particularly practical, but I love it. 

“I also make centerpieces, but they don't sell quite as well. I feel I am doing interior design on a small scale. I am so sorry I did not do this at an earlier age. I started making crafts seven or eight years ago, and I love the fact that they are making both people and dogs happy (since most of the money earned goes to dog rescue nonprofits).”

Altman has been making significant financial donations from the sales of her crafts to five rescue nonprofits in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York State, but lately, her favorite beneficiary is Tracy's Paws Rescue outside of San Antonio, Texas, which has rescued 3,700 dogs in the last five years.

The obvious question for Altman: “Why do you send the money to Texas when there are dozens of rescue nonprofits in the Greater Philadelphia area?" 

When she explained why and I watched the videos on Tracy's Paws Rescue (named for founder, Tracy Voss), I could see why. People in long lines in various cities are waiting for a huge vehicle from Tracy's to drive up and deliver their dogs to the waiting arms of the adoptees, whose adoptions had been arranged in advance. Many of the adoptees are crying when the puppies are placed in their arms. 

Rhonda L Harmon, director of operations for, told us, “Nan has a heart of gold, and I am proud to call her a friend and extremely proud she has trusted Tracys Paws to be a good steward of her donations!

“A few years ago, Nan called me very excited!! She was cleaning out a trunk in the attic. She found over $2,000 dollars tucked away from an art show she had totally forgotten about. We were thrilled; it was a gift from heaven, but honestly, it was her hard work and talent, her love of art and all things beautiful. Nan can see the beauty in every mange and suffering dog. 

“Her giving heart has helped many that have come into my home. We will be naming a dog kennel in our new building in her honor. She has turned her love of art into a lifeline for unwanted, throwaway dogs. It's just amazing.”

Altman is a native of Media. As an adult she lived in New Hope, then Towson, MD, where she met her future husband, Brett, who grew up near Chestnut Hill, went to Springfield High School and is now in real estate management. They married and moved to Chestnut Hill more than four decades ago. 

They have a daughter, Katie, who lives in Plymouth Meeting. They have a son, Zach, who sang at the Water Tower as a youth and is now a professional opera singer, having performed in Italy, Sweden, Scotland, Germany and all over the U.S.

Altman worked at Intermission for 10 years in Chestnut Hill doing visual displays as well as window displays at the Kimmel Center. Her stunning Christmas wreaths full of canine objects, sold at lots of silent auctions, were in Avant Apres, which used to be in Chestnut Hill but is now in Flourtown. 

Altman's work (she never even had a dog until her daughter was 10) has been locally at Serendipity, Windfall Gallery and Villavillekula and booked (“All owned by very lovely, kind ladies”). Also the Chestnut Hill Garden Festival, Fall for the Arts, Scoogi's Christmas Show and the La Salle High School Christmas Show. 

For more information, email nanrevell@aol.com or visit tracyspawsrescue.org.