Small Talk

Going Further Beyond

Going Further Beyond

Artist Maria Jose Santos began creating ornate porcelain miniature figurines almost two decades ago in mountainous Asturias, Spain. Since then, she has captured the light and whimsical moves of dancing ballerinas as well as the intricacies of ethnic and period dress.  In addition to T/m, her work can be seen in the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, Switzerland’s Puppenhausmuseum, in Spain’s El Mundo de las Muñecas.

Santos was inspired by a historical painting by Julius Victor Berger when she created the 1:12 scale figures Emperor Charles V of Spain, and Queen Isabella of Portugal and her maid. Queen Isabella even holds two miniature documents; one of which was handwritten by Santos indicating that the miniature work was “put in the care of” The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures.

The title of the miniature trio incorporates Emperor Charles V’s motto, “Further Beyond,” which stems from the Pillars of Hercules – structures the Ancient Greeks once believed marked where the physical world ended. By the time the Emperor gained power, however, sailors knew you didn’t just drop off the edge of the earth at the horizon, so the leader leveraged the phrase as motivation to push boundaries and explore. That’s something we can support as we head towards the our reopening next year!

Sew-Handy Dandy

Sew-Handy Dandy

It’s just about that time of year again: time to make your New Year’s Resolution. Why not pick up a new hobby or learn a new skill this year? Maybe it’s time to dust off that old sewing machine you inherited and give it a whirl! In 1910 the Singer Manufacturing Co. began producing Singer model no. 20. Nicknamed the Sew-Handy in the 1950s, it became the most popular child-sized sewing machine. Since the machine was simply a miniature version of a full-size sewing machine, it was also marketed as a lightweight travel machine for adults. Originally sold for about $3, it features a hand crank that created a simple chain-stitch.

The Singer Sew-Handy remained in production until 1975 with only 4 variations. This Singer Sew-Handy from the T/m collection appears to be a second generation machine dating somewhere from 1914 and 1926 based upon the number of spokes on the hand crank. We wonder how many fabulous doll wardrobes were created by young seamstresses practicing their skills on a machine like this one.

Toytisserie Turnout

Toytisserie Turnout

We put out the call, and metropolitan Kansas City answered! Earlier this fall, we placed collection barrels at several area libraries, businesses, and schools to collect an assortment of small toys needed for a monumental new sculpture at T/m that we’re calling the Toytisserie. After just a month of collecting, we ended up with nearly six 55-gallon collection barrels filled with toys!

In order to get an idea of what we’re working with, we first cleaned and sorted the barrels of toys with the help of our volunteers. We ended up with dozens of categories; from baby doll bottles to Barbie brushes and Lincoln Logs to LEGO people—hundreds of small toys will get a new lease on life as part of the two-story sculpture. A BIG thank you to the folks who donated as well as to the businesses and organizations that hosted a collection site. Stay tuned as the Toytisserie pieces come together!

An Artful Tradition

An Artful Tradition

Like last year, we’re going to take a look at a work by Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel that commemorates the holiday season. Although her miniature version of The Virgin and Child by Italian painter Lippo Memmi was created nearly 700 years after his, Chellis Wessel has stayed true to the original media: egg tempera with gold leaf on a panel. Memmi’s trademark lacy halos and flattened gold patterns and trim within Mary’s robe all carry an intricate amount of tiny detail. We wonder how Chellis Wessel must have felt replicating those details in fine-scale miniature!

As a special treat this year, Chellis Wessel’s version is on display at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art next to the original work that served as her inspiration. Visitors can view it as well as others scattered throughout the Nelson-Atkins’ galleries as part of the exhibit, Highlights from the Collection of The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures on view now through February 22, 2015.

The Adorned Thorne Rooms

The Adorned Thorne Rooms

Have you ever wanted to peek into the delight and spirit of holiday seasons gone by? Well, we have good news. One of the most festive holiday traditions at The Art Institute of Chicago is the annual decking of the Thorne Rooms’ halls. Some of the tiny period rooms don long garlands and dainty, dangling mistletoe. In the English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, for example, a miniature Christmas tree sits atop a small table, complete with tall red candles on its limbs and a set of dolls resting beneath its bottom branches. In the modern-era California Hallway, a tiny blue menorah sits on a coffee table next to a box holding a dreidel.

In addition to regional, historically accurate décor in several other period rooms, this year’s special display also includes new decorations in honor of the Chinese New Year, a 15-day celebration marked by the lunar calendar. Common commemorative accents in the display will include tiny lanterns, floral arrangements, and banners inscribed with traditional Chinese sayings and idioms.

Photo: Mrs. James Thorne. English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, 1840-70 (detail), c. 1937. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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