Small Talk / Exhibits

The World Made Small

Colonial Williamsburg Dollhouse

Generations of visitors to Colonial Williamsburg have witnessed history come alive before their eyes. Historical reenactors interpret everyday life in the revolutionary city, from famous patriots to tradespeople and shopkeepers. One of the best ways (and of course our favorite) to see how children lived in America’s earliest years is through the toys they played with.

The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg has stepped out several of their dollhouses for an exhibit called The World Made Small. More than just playthings, dollhouses provided a way for girls to learn the importance of keeping house. Among the dollhouses on display is an 1820 cabinet-style house filled with over a century’s worth of family heirlooms, including a tiny chest-on-chest made from a cigar box. A massive fifteen-foot-long dollhouse from 1900 steals the show with Victorian furnishings that emulate full-scale homes of the time. Colonial Williamsburg staff and volunteers actually re-created several paintings from the permanent collection on a small scale to adorn the walls! Not to be outdone by the “girlish” dollhouses, the exhibit also features toy structures for boys including a fort, soldier’s campsite, and a farm.
Photo: Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.

Miniature Museums Go Global

miniature museum

Can you imagine if one of our miniature artists created a scaled version of The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures? That’s so meta, right? You would probably need the power of the Hubble Telescope to see our collection!

In reality, that’s exactly what several artists are doing around the world. For example, in her traveling exhibit space, Gallery 1:10, Anna Lidberg exemplifies this phenomena in shows like If You Tolerate This. This special collection features two museum spaces. Miniature books created by Henrik Franklin sit on stands as if they were on display in one room while mini-television plays next door. Another Miniature Museum at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag features 2,000 works from over 850 famous artists including Roy Lichtenstein and Damien Hirst; all no larger than 10 x 10 x 10 centimeters. Each tiny work was produced specially for the museum. We like to think we’re trendsetters!
Photo: Courtesy of Henrik Franklin, henrikfranklin.com and Gallery 1:10.

In Pursuit of Fun

trivial pursuit

Inspired by the popular board game, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum partnered with Hasbro, Inc. to create Trivial Pursuit®: A 50-State Adventure. The interactive exhibit highlights unique facts about the states. Did you know that Trivial Pursuit originated from a Scrabble night gone wrong. Facing a game with missing pieces, two members of The Canadian Press set about creating their own board game. Two years after its release, the game had sold more than 20 million copies, establishing itself as a household name.

On view now at the Strong Museum of Play, exhibit visitors find their way through a series of games, puzzles, and trivia questions similar to those found in the traditional game. You can dress like a pioneer and climb into a covered wagon in Nebraska, or play a pinball game of baseball in Boston’s Fenway Park. There’s even a display that lets you change a tire in the Indianapolis 500 – minus the pressure of a ticking course clock and screaming fans, of course.

Photo: Trivial Pursuit Cards. Dirk1981, Wikimedia Commons.

A Storied Past

dolls' houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood

If the residents of the V&A Museum of Childhood’s dollhouses could talk, can you imagine the stories they’d tell? That’s exactly the focus of the special exhibit Small Stories: At Home in a Doll’s House. Fictional family dramas, posh parties, and even spooky mysteries told from the viewpoints of dolls speak to the time period of their home.

Twelve dolls’ houses spanning 300 years of history are displayed, including an 18th century London townhome, a 1930s modern villa with a swimming pool, and a swinging ‘60s high-rise flat. Not just lovely on the outside, the contents of the houses also reflect the everyday lives of residents, guests and employees who would have inhabited the full-sized homes of their day. The exhibit includes a special art installation Dream House in which designers have created miniature fantasy rooms that reflect the imagination, technology and art of today.

Photo: Whiteladies House, 1935, Moray Thomas, England. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Stitches of the Past

Black dolls

For some toys it can be somewhat easy to uncover their history. Consulting old catalogs, collector books, company histories, and even personal anecdotes from their owners help historians like us at T/m to tell the story of a special toy. For some toys, however, their past is harder to uncover because they were not mass produced and may have been “loved to death.”

An exhibit at the Mingei International Museum explores the storied past of some of America’s most fascinating and mysterious playthings: black dolls. The exhibit showcases over 100 unique handmade African American dolls from the collection of Deborah Neff. The dolls represent a rich handcrafting tradition spanning from 1860 to 1930. Some dolls in the exhibit are also paired with an antique photograph depicting them with their young owners. The dolls on display depict a variety of emotions and give viewers a rare glimpse into the lives of their creators and owners.
Photo: Courtesy Mingei International Museum.

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