Small Talk Archive: July 2014

The Magic of Color and Finish… On The Walls?

Hastrich Chest and Faux Paint Samples

While we may have gotten a time out for coloring on the walls and furniture, James Hastrich pays homage to his early-American predecessors by doing just that with each of his miniature creations. He modeled his artist’s sample box after one owned by 19th century stenciling master Moses Eaton.

These traveling artists, known as itinerant painters, journeyed from town to town with their sample box, showcasing their skills to potential patrons. In return for food and lodging, these artists painted furniture (such as this chest in the style of Rufus Porter’s folk art landscapes), walls, and even floors with stenciled patterns inspired by wallpaper—which was too expensive for many families before the Industrial Revolution standardized mass production and reduced costs.

Today, some lucky New England homeowners are still discovering original stenciled patterns beneath layers of wallpaper. Maybe someday we’ll find hidden designs in one of our miniature room settings.

Make It Work

Tim Gunn

More than a year ago now, a member of the T/m team was enjoying a copy of Elle Decor magazine, when what did appear but an interview with fashion’s most fabulous mentor, Tim Gunn! And who would have guessed it, but Gunn loves a lot of the same things we do! So, we thought we’d take this opportunity, in honor of Gunn’s birthday next Tuesday and the new season of Project Runway premiering tonight, to take a look at them:

Gunn collects miniature architectural models, including ten works by Timothy Richards. Richards’s models, ranging from historic to modern buildings across the globe, are made out of gypsum plaster that cleverly simulates masonry. Gunn also collects the diminutive chairs and tables found in Ming Dynasty tombs; some consider these works a precursor to fine-scale miniatures.

Gunn loves LEGO sets too, claiming “I was an addict as a kid; I still am.” It’s no surprise that he is a big fan of LEGO’s new line, LEGO Architecture that realizes the iconic buildings of world architecture as LEGO models. We think he’d get a big kick out of a visit to T/m!

Photo: Photo by Barbara Nitke, Copyright 2014 A+E Networks.

Pint-Sized “Painted Ladies”

Bliss Dollhouse Close Up

Queen Anne Style is one of the most recognizable styles of Victorian architecture in America. With castle-like turrets, colorful “painted lady” details, and grand porches, they’re hard to miss. These stately homes often required teams of skilled builders, carpenters and craftsmen to construct, which of course came at a high cost. Often the style of choice for the lumber barons and railroad tycoons of the day, these romantic mansions captured the hearts of Americans coast to coast— and still do today!

Not surprisingly, the popular, late 19th century style also appeared in dollhouses. But how did toy manufacturers shrink the intricate Queen Anne Victorian details for mass dollhouse production? Toy makers at the R. Bliss Manufacturing Company had the perfect solution. Instead of hand carving and applying all of the spindles, lattice work, and shingles (just think of the choking hazards!), the dollhouse’s ornate details were printed on chromolithographed paper facades. These colorful details applied to the sturdy dollhouse structure made for a perfectly playable and mass-producible Queen Anne dollhouse. After all, what little girl wouldn’t want a dollhouse fit for a queen?

A Match Made In (Marketing) Heaven

Texaco Station

Was your choice of breakfast cereal ever swayed by the prize inside? If so, you were responding to a marketing campaign featuring toys. From the first Kellogg’s cereal promotion to the Ovaltine secret decoder, toys have long been used as promotional products. In the 1960s, Texaco teamed up with the toy company Buddy-“L” for one such marketing strategy.

Buddy-“L” produced a plastic toy Texaco service station set, complete with tiny oil cans and a sign for the restrooms. Texaco placed advertisements in numerous newspapers and magazines promoting an exclusive offer for the station set: adults could pick up a special coupon at their local Texaco station, to buy a toy station set for a discount by mail. Texaco hoped that customers would get their cars checked out while picking up a coupon and Buddy-”L” hoped that regular Texaco customers would purchase the discounted toy. It was a win-win situation: Buddy-“L” sold more toys, Texaco got more customers, and kids nationwide got to play station attendant. Now that’s a match made in (marketing) heaven!

Master Miniature Craftsman

Boston Beacon Hill Rooms

Frank L. Matter (1891 – 1979) was one of the forefathers of the current miniature artist movement. A WWI veteran and commercial artist for 25 years, Matter originally began making miniatures for fun. Following the lead of a fellow craftsman, he published an announcement seeking commissions. His first order came from Jack Norworth, famous vaudeville and stage star and composer, most famously known for a song sang almost every day throughout the summer: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Matter completed a book of 24 watercolors for Norworth. The leather-bound, hand-stitched book was 1″ by 1 ¾” in size and the pictures themselves measured ½” to 5/8″!

During his miniature career, Matter worked in just about every medium, from paint to wood to silver, creating masterpieces in both the 1:12 scale (one inch equals one foot) and 1:48 scale (one inch equals four feet). His unique creations included furniture, china, musical instruments, toys, shoes, guns, smoking pipes, and clocks.

Matter’s greatest challenge was the Boston Beacon Hill House built for Claire Bagley Hammons of Seattle. Done in the 1:48 scale, he created almost every item in the house! A labor of love, the house took over four years to create. It currently takes up just a little bit of space in the collection at T/m.

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