Small Talk

Nettie’s Dollhouse

Nettie’s Dollhouse

Many of the nineteenth century dollhouses in T/m’s collection reflect the wealth and grandeur of the Gilded Age. One of our most treasured dollhouses from this time, however, isn’t grand at all—in fact, it’s fairly humble!

The smartly built Nettie Wells dollhouse was made for a middle class Kansas City girl by her father in the 1880s. Although it only has a couple rooms, the small wooden house has beautiful details like scalloped trim, starburst motifs, and a hinged roof in the back of the house allowing for play and easy storage. Like the larger dollhouses in our collection, Nettie’s dollhouse was a teaching tool for her adult life. Sadly, Nettie had to assume that role at the age of just twelve when her mother fell ill. It was at that time that she packed up her dollhouse and its contents, never to be played with by anyone again. Nettie’s granddaughter donated the dollhouse and its contents to the museum in 1994, giving us a rare glimpse into Nettie’s childhood over a century ago.

Do You See What I See?

Do You See What I See?

If you’ve been following along, you’ve noticed by now how essential toys are to our culture’s story. And here it is again, a tale of how science influenced toys, which influenced the creation of moving pictures. In Optical Toys, part of the new permanent exhibits at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, visitors explore the 1820s discovery of persistence of vision. Scientists theorized that the human eye remembers an image for a fraction of a second after it disappears. Thus, if two images are moving rapidly, the mind blends them into one image. Caught on yet?!

While this was only part of how the mind perceives movement, it set in motion (see what we did there?) the exploration of how the mind explores action and depth through optical toys. Think View Masters, stereoscopes, and kaleidoscopes. In the center of it all is a giant zoetrope showing one of our favorite toys taking flight. Through the use of fast moving picture strips viewed through a slot (think of it like a flip book), our now permanently grounded plane is able to soar the skies.

Design for Eternity

Design for Eternity

The phrase “you can’t take it with you” certainly hasn’t been around forever. As The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit Design for Eternity: Architectural Models from the Ancient Americas shows, ancient Mesoamerican and Andean cultures may have believed quite the opposite. From 100 B.C. until European contact in the sixteenth century, artists in the ancient Americas created small-scale models to be placed in the tombs of important individuals.

Although there is very little documentation on how these objects were used, Maya hieroglyphs refer to the miniature structures as “god houses” or “sleeping places for the gods.” The exhibit includes examples of these models in a variety of materials including ceramic, wood, stone, and metal that replicate historic palaces, temples, and everyday living spaces. Even though their original intentions may be lost, it’s fascinating to see evidence of humankind’s long-standing interest in miniature art.
Photo: House Model, 100 B.C.-A.D. 200, Nayarit, Mexico. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org.

The Fashion Queen

The Fashion Queen

While having three Barbies with three different hair color and styles is nice, wouldn’t one Barbie with the ability to have all three be even better? In 1963, Mattel introduced little girls to a Barbie doll that could change her hairstyle faster than a box of at-home hair dye. Fashion Queen Barbie sported a sculptured hairdo that could be covered with three wigs: a blond bubble cut, a brunette pageboy, and a red flip. Not only were wigs a popular fashion item in the early to mid-1960s, but the hairstyles included were all the rage too! Barbie began to sport the bouffant bubble cut in 1961 in response to the newest haircut of 1960s fashion icon, first lady Jacqueline Onasis Kennedy.

Although she arrived in a striped gold and white lamé swimsuit, this Barbie had an extensive wardrobe thanks to the mother of her owner, Donna. Donna’s mother was a home economics teacher and handmade a faux leopard coat and hat, a striped white and blue sundress, and a red dress that made Ken’s head turn!

Making Mathematical Miniatures

Making Mathematical Miniatures

According to Newton’s First Law of Motion… OK, we’ll admit we don’t exactly remember everything from physics class! Physicist-turned-miniaturist Emily Good, however, was on top of her game when she created the grouping seen here, which includes a daybed, bureau, bowl, candlestick, and an urn. It’s incredible to see Good’s mastery of a wide variety of materials, especially since she received no artistic training until discovering miniature making.

Just how did she manage to do it? T/m is fortunate to have a seven-volume catalog of Good’s work along with her personal notes and correspondences. Included in her records is a description outlining her very mathematical approach to making miniatures. For example, with the precision of, well, a mathematician, she was able to calculate the shrinkage rate for casting ceramics.

Good’s lifelong love of antiques is also evident in her notes. She meticulously documented the full-scale decorative arts objects that served as inspiration for her works, even citing what issue of Antiques magazine she found them. Perhaps most importantly, Good championed a trial and error methodology. She described in a letter that her method of wax modeling was not the sanctioned way of doing it, and a response from a jeweler who told her, “There is no right or wrong way. There are only different ways.”

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