Small Talk / Miniature

Hickory Dickory Dock

frank matter miniatures clock

One of the more amazing pieces (okay, let’s be honest, we think they’re all amazing) in the Boston Beacon Hill House is a case clock by Frank Matter, modeled after a piece by Eli Terry. The case clock contains the world’s smallest watch movement, which was taken from a diamond bracelet watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Boston Beacon Hill House is created on one of the smallest miniature scales, 1:48, which means that 1 inch in miniature equals 4 feet in the full-size world. It also means that artists such as Matter had to create on a super-small scale without going blind. Matter’s solution to this issue was that he made most of his pieces using tools he created himself. And while today’s miniature artists work under multiple levels of magnification, Matter created all of his works using little to no magnification!

Toy or Miniature?

toy vs miniature

So, what is the difference between a toy and a fine-scale miniature? This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions we hear at the museum. Let’s take a quick look at a few pieces from the collection to illustrate the answer!

William Robertson’s miniature Hewitt “gentleman’s” chest and the American Manufacturing Concern’s (AMC) Elite Tool Chest for Boys are similar tool chests featuring dovetail joints. The most apparent difference is probably their size; the Elite Tool Chest measures a child-size 17 5/8” long, while Robertson’s 1-inch scale miniature measures a just a wee 2” long. Both chests are “real” tool chests in that they feature a full set of functioning tools which could be used to complete any number of carpentry projects. In fact, Robertson’s miniature includes all the same tools as the full-size Hewitt chest currently located at Colonial Williamsburg—the saw even has 160 teeth to the inch!

It probably goes without saying that these two tool chests are meant for two very different audiences. AMC mass produced the Elite Tool Chest to offer children— well, apparently only boys— size-appropriate tools for practicing their carpentry skills. Robertson’s Hewitt chest was created with no intention to actually use the tools, but rather to understand and study the skills traditional craftsmen used to handcraft everyday objects. You could probably say that both pieces were created to educate, but as very different teaching tools—pun intended!

When a House is Not a Home

frank matter miniatures

Even the Lilliputians from Gulliver’s Travels would have a difficult time trying to live in this tiny masterpiece. Created in the quarter scale (that’s 1 inch for every 48 inches, or 4 feet!) by miniature artist Frank Matter, the Boston Beacon Hill House was a collaborative effort between Matter and Claire Bagley Hammons, who commissioned the piece. Hammons enlisted Matter’s talents to bring to life her vision: a house featuring the outstanding architecture of beautiful old New England mansions. Completed in 1958, the forty-eighth scale model, stands at a stately 13 inches high, 12 inches across, and 9 inches deep!

The house was added to the T/m collection in 2008, but like all old homes, it needed a renovation before going on exhibit. Miniature artist William R. Robertson completed the renovation, uncovering more astonishing craftsmanship then we thought a house smaller than a microwave could hold! The house is fully furnished with functioning pieces right down to the china in the breakfront and the reading material in the magazine rack. And like a real home of that era, Robertson even found himself treating for asbestos during the renovation! Robertson also uncovered some mind-boggling, functioning pieces that we’ll explore in future posts. Stay tuned!

The Magic of Color and Finish… On The Walls?

james hastrich

While we may have gotten a time out for coloring on the walls and furniture, James Hastrich pays homage to his early-American predecessors by doing just that with each of his miniature creations. He modeled his artist’s sample box after one owned by 19th century stenciling master Moses Eaton.

These traveling artists, known as itinerant painters, journeyed from town to town with their sample box, showcasing their skills to potential patrons. In return for food and lodging, these artists painted furniture (such as this chest in the style of Rufus Porter’s folk art landscapes), walls, and even floors with stenciled patterns inspired by wallpaper—which was too expensive for many families before the Industrial Revolution standardized mass production and reduced costs.

Today, some lucky New England homeowners are still discovering original stenciled patterns beneath layers of wallpaper. Maybe someday we’ll find hidden designs in one of our miniature room settings.

Master Miniature Craftsman

frank matter miniatures

Frank L. Matter (1891 – 1979) was one of the forefathers of the current miniature artist movement. A WWI veteran and commercial artist for 25 years, Matter originally began making miniatures for fun. Following the lead of a fellow craftsman, he published an announcement seeking commissions. His first order came from Jack Norworth, famous vaudeville and stage star and composer, most famously known for a song sang almost every day throughout the summer: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Matter completed a book of 24 watercolors for Norworth. The leather-bound, hand-stitched book was 1″ by 1 ¾” in size and the pictures themselves measured ½” to 5/8″!

During his miniature career, Matter worked in just about every medium, from paint to wood to silver, creating masterpieces in both the 1:12 scale (one inch equals one foot) and 1:48 scale (one inch equals four feet). His unique creations included furniture, china, musical instruments, toys, shoes, guns, smoking pipes, and clocks.

Matter’s greatest challenge was the Boston Beacon Hill House built for Claire Bagley Hammons of Seattle. Done in the 1:48 scale, he created almost every item in the house! A labor of love, the house took over four years to create. It currently takes up just a little bit of space in the collection at T/m.

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