Small Talk / Exhibits

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

A Dollhouse Fit For A Queen

Queen Mary's Dollhouse Dining Room

Three fine-scale commissions in the first half of the 20th century greatly influenced the wave of enthusiasm for miniatures in the 1970s and inspired collectors like T/m founder Barbara Marshall. We’ll take a look at all three commissions here on Small Talk, starting with Queen Mary’s Dollhouse at Windsor Castle. Created at the end of WWI as a token of appreciation to the Queen, the dollhouse is a memorial of the art and craft of the time, and helped revive British trade in the postwar depression.

Between 1921 and 1924 Sir Edwin Lutyens, the star architect of the day, organized 1,500 artists, craftsmen, and manufacturers to create the symmetrical building in a scale of one inch to one foot. The house has four elevations, forty rooms and vestibules, a grand marble staircase, and two elevators. The garage houses six perfectly functioning automobiles. Every room in the house is fully furnished with a working fireplace. No detail was forgotten… the house includes electricity and running water, even the toilets flush!

Toys with a Past

FAO Schwarz

Did you know Monopoly started as a game to teach people how terrible it was to have a money-gouging landlord? Or that the Etch-a-Sketch debuted in France as the Magic Screen? Or how about that the Slinky was originally supposed to cushion naval vessel instruments?!

Join Christopher Bensch, Vice President for Collections at The Strong, home of the National Toy Hall of Fame and National Museum of Play, as he explores the history of Hall of Fame inductees at FAO Schwarz. We’re guessing only Santa’s workshop has more toys than FAO Schwarz!

Pocket Portraiture: The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures

John Smart, English (1741/1742-1811). Portrait of General Keith MacAlister, 1810. Watercolor on ivory in copper mount, 3 3/8 x 2 ¾ inches (8.6 x 7 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Starr Foundation, Inc., F65-41/51. Photo: Robert Newcombe

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine not being able to text a photo to a friend, flip through the family scrapbook, or do a Google image search. Before the invention of photography, paintings were the best way (outside of taking a mental picture) to record a person’s image. But, paintings weren’t super portable. What if you wanted to lovingly gaze upon an image of your fiancée while sailing the high seas? Behold, miniature portraits!

The art form combining painting and jewelry making took off in the late 16th century. In fact, some of the earliest miniature portrait artists were trained as goldsmiths. The tiny portraits were painted on vellum until the early 18th century when artists began using ivory for a richer, more luminous look. The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is lucky to be just blocks away from the Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The collection contains over 250 paintings, with more than 50 by notable miniaturist John Smart. The miniatures are frequently rotated so you never know what tiny faces you’re going to see!

Photo: John Smart, English (1741/1742-1811). Portrait of General Keith MacAlister, 1810. Watercolor on ivory in copper mount, 3 3/8 x 2 ¾ inches (8.6 x 7 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Starr Foundation, Inc., F65-41/51. Photo: Robert Newcombe

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