Small Talk

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.

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!

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