Small Talk / Exhibits

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

Diplomatic Dolls

Miss Shimane Japanese friendship ambassador doll, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

Decades before Hello Kitty captured the hearts of Americans, a fleet of Japanese dolls came to America to promote peace and ease cultural tensions. In the 1920s, anti-immigrant sentiments and cultural differences between Japan and America were coming to a head. An American missionary named Sidney Gulick proposed a doll exchange with Japan in order to open an avenue for peaceful communication. In 1927, American school children sent 12,000 “American Blue-Eyed Dolls” to Japan just in time to celebrate Hina Matsuri. Millions of Japanese children were so enthralled with the dolls that they donated money to create dolls to be sent to America, and thus the Japanese Friendship Dolls were born! Each doll represented a different Japanese prefecture, city, or colony and came with beautifully designed accessories such as teapots, parasols, and chests. (T/m is now home to one of these dolls, Miss Fukushima!)

Unfortunately, the diplomacy of the American Blue-Eyed Dolls and the Japanese Friendship Dolls did not last. When World War II broke out years later, dolls from the exchange were considered inappropriate to display, or even treasonous to possess. Many dolls were lost or destroyed. Those that remained safe through the years are now considered highly collectible. See some of them on exhibit in The Japanese Woodblock Print: An Extension of the Impermanent at the Montana Museum of Art & Culture on view now through April 19, 2014.

Photo: Miss Shimane Japanese Friendship Ambassador Doll, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Wikimedia Commons.

Inspiring A Collection

The exterior of Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle prior to the conservation. [J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry]

One of the major inspirations for the modern fine-scale miniature movement is Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago. The miniature, yet grand structure was completed in 1935 by artists and craftsmen of the day, and is similar to Queen Mary’s Dollhouse at Windsor Castle. It includes not only stunning miniature architectural details, but also tiny fine art pieces ranging from ancient antiquities to modern murals. Inspired by different fairy tales and folk tales such as The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, and Gulliver’s Travels, each room tells a different story!

Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle has been on display at the Museum of Science and Industry since 1949. Just like many older houses, the Fairy Castle’s electrical and plumbing systems (yes, miniature plumbing!) were in need of an upgrade in order to prevent damage to the structure and its contents. Earlier this year, a team of conservators revamped the castle, preserving it for generations to come.

Photo: The exterior of Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle prior to conservation. [J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry]

The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection

Look of Love

Before the widespread practice of photography, miniature portrait artists provided tiny, life-like representations for loved ones to carry with them or wear as a pendant. Often trained as jewelry makers, miniature portrait artists had the technical skill to work on a super-fine level of detail, resulting in these wearable pieces of art. One very special collection, the Skier Collection of Eye Miniatures, depicts only the eyes of loved ones painted on ivory. Disembodied eyes may seem a little macabre, but the works are quite romantic and mysterious in nature. After all, eyes are said to be the window to the soul.

Often referred to as “lover’s eyes,” eye miniatures are rooted in a 19th century code of chivalry in which symbols like gems and flowers held special meanings. For example, eye miniatures adorned with pearls may have symbolized mourning, garnets were used to adorn the eye of a friend, and coral warded off evil. The endless wealth of meanings within each piece was often left up to the recipient to decipher. It would sort of be like reading one of your friend’s “vaguebook” posts! The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection will be on view May 17 -August 24, 2014 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Photo: Rose gold oval brooch surrounded by seed pearls, ca. 1790. Collection of Dr. and Mrs. David Skier.

She Was Still A Little Girl Who Had Toys

Anne Frank's Diary, Copyright Anne Frank House, Photographer Cris Toala Olivares, 2010

Like many other Jewish children during Nazi occupation in Europe, Anne Frank gave away her toys before going into hiding with her family. Eventually, she was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died of typhus. The diary Anne kept is now regarded as one of the most widely-read pieces of Holocaust literature.

Anne gave the family cat and several toys, including her marbles, a tea set, and a book, to one of her non-Jewish childhood friends, Toosje Kupers, because she feared they would “end up in the wrong hands.” Kupers, who is now 83 years old, found the items last year while moving and decided to give them to the Anne Frank House Museum. The toys are on display as part of an exhibit at the Kunsthal Art Gallery in Rotterdam: The Second World War in 100 Objects is on view now through May 5, 2014.

Photo: Anne Frank’s Diary, Copyright Anne Frank House, Photographer Cris Toala Olivares, 2010

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