Small Talk / Exhibits

Masterminding Historical Interiors

Thorne_CaliforniaLivingRoom

In the late 1930s, Eugene Kupjack read a magazine article about Narcissa Thorne’s miniature rooms. Kupjack, trained in art and set design, took pieces of Lucite and fashioned them into a chair, a dish, and tiny glasses. He mailed them off to Mrs. Thorne—and six weeks later, he got a phone call. Mrs. Thorne loved his work. Would he come create some pieces for her?

Kupjack’s work as the principle artisan on 37 of the 62 Thorne Rooms launched his career in miniature-making, and he is now considered to be a father of the art form. Kupjack created approximately 700 miniature rooms during his career. Over the decades, Kupjack worked with many different mediums, but became particularly interested in creating silver miniatures after famous historical pieces, including Martha Washington’s tea tray and Paul Revere’s tankard. Today, Kupjack’s sons are active miniature artisans, and his work continues to awe visitors at the Art Institute of Chicago and museums around the world. As one 1971 Thorne Rooms viewer mused, “To see them is to marvel at the magic of his fingers and the ingeniousness of his mind that created this tiny room.”

Preserving Historical Interiors

Thorne_CaliforniaLivingRoom

T/m’s miniature collection was greatly influenced by three spectacular commissions in the 1970s. We’ve already examined Queen Mary’s Doll House and Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, so now it’s time to examine the third: the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the 1920s, museums across the United States from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Detroit Institute of Arts were premiering full-scale period interiors. After traveling through Europe, Narcissa Thorne, daughter-in-law of the co-founder of Montgomery Ward and Company, dreamed of miniature rooms as a space-saving alternative to documenting, sharing, and preserving historical interiors.

Thorne began with 24 rooms that were exhibited to great acclaim between 1933 and 1940 at Chicago’s Century of Progress ExpositionSan Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition, and New York’s 1939-1940 World’s Fair. Over the years, she commissioned additional rooms for a total of 68 interiors spanning Europe from the late 13th century to the 1930s and America from the 17th century to the 1930s. They are now on view across the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago. We’ll be looking at some of the rooms in depth over time, but for now, check out this then-and-now postcard collection.

Photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne. California Living Room, 1850-1875, c. 1940 The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

The Toy King

Marx Motorcycle Delivery

While The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures displays generations of childhood through dolls, dollhouses, trains, soldiers, teddy bears, and much more, other museums focus on just one type of toy or toy company. The Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville, West Virginia, has the largest display of toys from Louis Marx and Company in the world; that’s over six decades of toys!

The museum details not only the toys, but the history and stories of Louis Marx, described as “The Toy King” on a 1955 Time magazine cover; the company he founded in 1919; and the factory workers employed in his three Pennsylvania and West Virginia facilities. Marx branded his toys with his name and was the first inductee to the Toy Industry Hall of Fame where his plaque proclaims him “The Henry Ford of the Toy Industry.” No wonder he has his own museum!

In the 1950s, the company was the largest toy manufacturer in the world. Don’t think you can name a Marx toy? Think again! Although the name is now largely forgotten (Marx sold the company in 1972), the company developed Rock’em Sock’em Robots and the Big Wheel tricycle. The toys bore the slogan, “One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?” We sure know one place that does: the Marx Toy Museum!

Photo: Motorcycle Delivery, Marx USA 1950s. Wikimedia Commons.

Meet The Newest Cartoon Stars

Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York

The 2013 inductees to the National Toy Hall of Fame are in the spotlight once again, starring in Leigh Rubin’s Rubes® Cartoons. Rubin began his artistic journey with his own greeting card company, which led to his funny Rubes® Cartoons.

Many of Rubin’s cartoons feature toys in hilarious situations, and the unique cartoons he created for the 2013 inductees, rubber ducky and the game of chess, are no exception!

Photo: Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.

The Wonderful World Of Miniatures

Courtesy Walt Disney Family Foundation, ©Disney

T/m founder Barbara Marshall wasn’t the only one inspired by the Thorne Rooms. Before settling at the Art Institute of Chicago and other art museums, the miniature rooms traveled the United States including an appearance at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. There, they captured the imagination of former Kansas City resident Walt Disney. Disney began collecting miniatures on his European travels, bringing home minuscule works in wood, glass, china, and metal.

He also tried his hand at the craft creating 100 5 ½” inch pot-bellied stoves that he gave to friends and sold for $25 each. To his delight, Thorne purchased two to add to her collection. In the 1950s, Disney began working with Disney Studio animators to create an entire miniature world that he coined “Disneylandia.” He envisioned placing the miniature settings on a special 21-car train; the animated scenes would tour the country and come to life when a quarter was deposited. Although the project never happened, some believe it was the forerunner for Disneyland.

Disney continued to use models and miniatures in dreaming and scheming for his big projects. Check out some of these miniatures from the Walt Disney Archives. And learn more about The Miniature Worlds of Walt at The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Photo: Courtesy Walt Disney Family Foundation, ©Disney

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