Small Talk

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.

Josephine’s Story

Josephine Bird Dollhouse Attic

The Josephine Bird Dollhouse is one of the most intact, antique dollhouses in the T/m collection. In previous blog posts, we’ve explored the bookcase-style dollhouse and some of its contents, which were originally owned and played with by young Josephine Bird in 1890s Kansas City. One of the many reasons why we love dollhouses is because they are time capsules that have a lot to tell about their original owners. So, what did this time capsule (with a little research to fill in the blanks) tell us about Josephine?

Born in 1889, Josephine was the daughter of one of the founders of the Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store (E.B.T.) in Kansas City. As a child, she repurposed several pieces of E.B.T. merchandise in her dollhouse. As a young lady, she went to finishing school in Florence, Italy. Some of the treasures in the dollhouse’s attic are almost certainly souvenirs she collected on her travels. As a finishing touch, several feathered friends perch atop this stately dollhouse, reflecting Josephine’s last name!

Concluding An Art Nouveau Spring

Jardinere with Ruler

Spring turned into summer in the blink of an eye, so it’s time to wrap up our behind-the-scenes look at Linda LaRoche’s jardinière! After researching, sketching, carving, and assembling the pieces, LaRoche was almost finished with her jardinière. She faced one last challenge: it is a planter after all, and the full-scale jardinière has a watertight liner. How could LaRoche create a miniature liner?

The ingenious solution? Old paint tubes! LaRoche cut apart some of her used paint tubes and removed their inner lead liners. She flattened the liners, fitted them to the interior of the jardiniere’s basin, and voila! Every detail of the jardinière, from the precise carvings to the basin’s liner, matched the full-scale piece. After fourteen years of work, the jardinière was finally complete and ready for its place in the Masterpiece Gallery at T/m! We hope you enjoyed this journey through LaRoche’s creative process and are as inspired as we are by her ingenuity and dedication!

Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

Simpson Charger

Have you ever gone into an art museum and wished you could take one of the pieces home? While we may take a picture, artist LeeAnn Chellis Wessel decided to take it one step further! With advanced art degrees, Chellis Wessel knew the technical aspects of creating pottery. But it wasn’t until she began creating period appropriate ceramics as gifts to furnish her mother’s miniature Colonial Revival house that she developed a passion for replicating the old masters in one-inch scale.

Chellis Wessel’s miniature artistry thrives from an interest in comparing and contrasting the style, period, form, function, and even geographic origin of the artworks, such as this charger that she reproduced from the collection at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She enjoys musing about the work’s original home, “I’ve always been really interested in… the historical aspect of what kinds of pieces were appropriate for this type of house, style, and period.”

While The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is closed for renovation, see this charger and more, along with some of their full-scale counterparts, on view now through February 22, 2015 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Mechanical Oarsman

Patented in 1869 by Nathan S. Warner, this mechanical oarsman toy was the first of its kind. Warner worked for a sewing machine manufacturer and used his technical know-how to secure design patents for several clockwork-mechanized toys. The patent allowed E.R. Ives and Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut to produce this mechanized, mustached rower toy, which became a hit among kids and adults alike.

Once the toy is wound up and placed in water, the oarsman’s torso moves back and forth along with his arms, which are attached to the oars. The movement of the oars propels the boat through the water. When the rudder on the back of the boat is turned, the oarsman will row in a circle; when the rudder is straight, he rows in a straight line. Mechanical oarsman toys were manufactured by several other firms as well, so don’t be surprised if you come across some interesting variations. In fact, radio controlled versions are still manufactured today!

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