Small Talk

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!

“The Finish and Color… is the Magic For Me”

Faux Paint Samples

Originally a maker of full-sized furniture (do you see another theme here?!), James Hastrich became engrossed in miniature making after constructing a 1/12th scale desk for a client. So much so that in 1977 he sold his furniture shop and fully devoted his time to the art of producing Early American painted furniture in fine-scale. Hastrich hand paints all of his pieces using traditional methods and materials.

The artist’s sample box is based on one owned by Moses Eaton, a traveling painter specializing in faux graining and stenciling. Unlike the DIYers with their plastic grocery bag techniques today, the decorative painters of the 18th and 19th century were highly skilled. Eaton’s work adorned the walls of homes along the East Coast between 1800 and 1830. Hastrich replicated Eaton’s wood paint samples using historical methods such as vinegar grainingsmoke graining, and brush stroke graining.

We’re Under Construction

We're Under Construction

After many months of planning and packing, the museum staff have relocated our administrative offices to a temporary location and turned the building over to the construction company for renovations to begin! We offered them all of our toy dump trucks and erector sets; not surprisingly, they declined.

While most of the collection went into storage, we saved several pieces for exhibition down the street at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Starting July 2, you can catch our world-class objects amongst some of Kansas City’s other great objects. Look closely! A few of T/m’s miniatures are replicas of work in the Nelson-Atkins’s permanent collection.

The staff will be around town too; look for us at Maker Faire this weekend, June 28-29, at Union Station. We’ll see you then!

Under a Magnifying Glass

Goddard-Townsend Secretary

While we wish that we could walk into The Metropolitan Museum of Art to measure, study, and photograph a 200-year-old secretary, we aren’t all fortunate enough to be miniature artists. For Paul Runyon, this was just the first step in crafting a miniature version of the Goddard-Townsend block and shell desk and bookcase. Made by the Goddards and Townsends, two intermarried 18th century Rhode Island furniture-making families, the desk gets its name from the raised blocks and carved shells on its surface.

Runyon was so particular that he was known to discard his plans for a miniature if he couldn’t make every single part in exact 1/12th scale. He worked under a magnifying glass to assemble the secretary because some of the pieces are as thin as .028 (or 7/250th) of an inch. It took him almost a year to complete this extraordinary work of art.

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