Small Talk / Exhibits

Eloise Kruger’s Meticulous Collection

eloise kruger miniature collection

While many men fought abroad during World War II, Eloise Kruger’s gumption led her to climb the career ladder from a secretarial position to the head of an all-woman accounting firm. When she began collecting fine-scale miniatures in 1939, she used the same tenacity. In 1997, she left her entire collection of more than 20,000 historically accurate decorative arts miniatures to the College of Architecture at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, now free for public viewing during the week.

The Kruger Collection includes miniature replicas of just about everything you would find in a household, including a kitchen sink! She meticulously recorded every detail available regarding each of her miniatures, including important commission information and correspondence with Eric Pearson, one of the first professional miniature makers in the United States. A whopping 800 books accompanied the collection when it arrived at the university—talk about attention to detail!

Photo: The Kruger Collection, University of Nebraska- Lincoln.

Gilbert’s Great Girders

Erector Set's 100th anniversary

The history of the Erector Set’s creator is just as interesting as the popularity of the toy itself. During his studies at Yale, A. C. Gilbert was an accomplished athlete and even won a gold medal for pole-vaulting in the 1908 Olympic Summer Games in London. When he wasn’t dominating a sport, Gilbert honed his skills as a successful magician.

We aren’t sure exactly when he found the time to sleep! Surrounded by the marvels of 20th century industrial architecture trends, Gilbert managed to find enough free time to create the first Erector Set in 1913. With it, he managed to bring the realism of these new technologies to the hands of American children. His hope was that the set would inspire the progression of these novel ideas for generations to come. A 2013 exhibit at The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop called The Erector Set at 100 traced the century-long legacy of Gilbert’s famous toy and connects it to the modern maker movement’s focus on technology and DIY.

Photo: The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop

I Had One of Those!

minnesota history center toys

If you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer (or even if you’re not), chances are you remember making a Slinky crawl down the stairs, baking a tiny cake with a light bulb, or putting Mr. Potato Head’s ear where his mouth normally appears. Childhood experiences like these are all brought back to life in a special exhibit at The Minnesota History Center called Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

After World War II, the mid-century decades saw cultural advances that affected the way Americans work, live, and play. Everything from the rise of car culture, to the space race, to Saturday morning cartoons found their way onto the living room floor in the form of toys and imaginative play. Although the exhibit ends on January 4, curators have created a special companion book outlining all of the exhibit’s toy treasures.

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

The Adorned Thorne Rooms

thorne rooms christmas

Have you ever wanted to peek into the delight and spirit of holiday seasons gone by? Well, we have good news. One of the most festive holiday traditions at The Art Institute of Chicago is the annual decking of the Thorne Rooms’ halls. Some of the tiny period rooms don long garlands and dainty, dangling mistletoe. In the English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, for example, a miniature Christmas tree sits atop a small table, complete with tall red candles on its limbs and a set of dolls resting beneath its bottom branches. In the modern-era California Hallway, a tiny blue menorah sits on a coffee table next to a box holding a dreidel.

In addition to regional, historically accurate décor in several other period rooms, this year’s special display also includes new decorations in honor of the Chinese New Year, a 15-day celebration marked by the lunar calendar. Common commemorative accents in the display will include tiny lanterns, floral arrangements, and banners inscribed with traditional Chinese sayings and idioms.

Photo: Mrs. James Thorne. English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, 1840-70 (detail), c. 1937. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

A Southwestern Sanctuary

thorne rooms new mexico dining room

The famous miniature Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago range from historical replicas influenced by patron and artist Narcissa Thorne’s travels abroad to striking reproductions of regional American home décor. These special rooms have been viewed, studied and enjoyed by generations (and even inspired a series of juvenile fiction books!).

The inspiration for one of our favorite works in the collection originates far from Thorne’s home in the Windy City. New Mexico Dining Room, c. 1940 includes small touches of both Pueblo Indian and Southwest American life, a style known as Pueblo Revival. Thorne’s eye for detail is not only apparent in the objects she chose to incorporate in the room setting, but also in the room construction itself. The kiva in the right corner of the room appears well-used with charring around its opening.  Colorful hand-loomed rugs, festively painted chairs, tiny retablos and intricately carved furniture all speak to the regional flavor that attracted many artists during New Mexico state’s early years.

Photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne. A34: New Mexico Dining Room, c.1940. c.1940. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

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