Small Talk / Miniature

American Folk Art Murals in Miniature

folk art mural wallpaper

It is believed that the home’s namesake, Ezra Carroll, commissioned the artfully adorned walls in the Ezra Carroll House. Located on a busy east-west thoroughfare near the store he owned, Carroll occupied the home from 1815 until his death in 1844. During this time, he hired itinerant painter William Price to paint the walls of his home.

While all the rage in England and France, scenic wallpaper was expensive to import and difficult to get your hands on. Ever resourceful, Americans folk artists in New York and New England found a DIY solution worthy of a 21st-century pin: hand-painting oil landscapes directly onto dry plaster.

While we know very little about Price, we do know he is the murals’ artist thanks to his signing and dating the work. Some scholars think he may be the same William H. Price that is listed as living in New York City in 1844, and that he may have been a veteran of the War of 1812 because of his depiction of Commander Perry’s victory at the Battle of Lake Erie in one of the murals. Scholars assume that he took inspiration from local and exotic scenic views in order to duplicate the French’s elaborate wallpapers.

American Folk Art in Miniature

american folk art

A visit to the fine-scale miniature galleries at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is a trip around the world and through time. Today, our trip takes us to 1830s central New York. Therese Bahl and Jim Ison’s “A Tribute to the Classic Period of American Folk Art” is based on the parlor and hall of the Ezra Carroll House. Formerly in East Springfield, New York, the home was demolished in 1957, but not before the murals were salvaged and preserved at the Winterthur Museum and The Farmers’ Museum (a sigh of relief!). The murals are their own story; we’ll cover them in an upcoming post!

In addition to making miniatures, Bahl teaches early American decorative art and is a professed admirer of American folk artists Peter Ompir and Rufus Porter. Ison specializes in Shaker and Windsor furniture dating from 1650 to 1850. Their 1989 partnership was picture perfect, producing this parlor with a fireplace and two windows alongside an entryway with a staircase and two doors.

Filigree Finery

filigree box

You just never know where or when inspiration will hit you. Unless, of course, you’re artist William R. Robertson, who seeks out his inspiration in the rare and refined decorative arts collections of some of the world’s best museums. This 1:12 scale chest was inspired by a trip to the Musée le Secq des Tournelles (The Wrought Iron Museum) in Rouen, France.

While noble houses of 17th century Europe would use boxes like these to store valuables like jewelry, although this miniature version might only hold a couple of gemstones. Robertson constructed the chest with ebony and 18 karat gold filigree panels, each with a crisp beaded edge. The box lid is hinged and features a functional lock and key. As a special touch, the artist microscopically signed his name beneath the handle, but don’t strain your eyes trying to read it!

Bitty Belter Furniture

belter furniture

Thomas Warner once explained his attraction to the Belter style: “I have to be able to capture the ‘feel’ that the original had. I think that’s why I enjoy the Belter designs so much. Its quality is massive—yet the intricate carvings make it ‘feel’ so delicate. It’s capturing the delicateness in such a heavy piece that is the true art—and the source of my genuine feeling of accomplishment.”

The center table in the Belter Parlor took about 40 hours to complete! Warner mainly used rosewood for the elaborate pierced carvings of the Belter style. John Belter himself favored rosewood and its ability to be bent and shaped without splitting or cracking like a more solid wood. In 1856, Belter patented a lamination process that allowed layers of wood to be more easily steamed into curves and carved.

Warner pieces’ replicate the intricate carvings of Belter furniture: multitude of grapes, vines, scrolls, and not a straight line in sight! If you are lucky enough to find a piece of Warner’s fine-scale miniature furniture (he produced limited quantities), it’ll be easy to tell it’s his: Warner signed all of his pieces.

A Bitty Belter Parlor

Belter style

In 1982, Thomas Warner completed the Belter Parlor, so named for the style of furniture by John Henry Belter that adorns the room. Warner’s work was also inspired by many of his fellow miniature artists, including Harry Cooke, John Davenport, Arlyn Coad, and Hermania Anslinger.

The Belter Parlor features hand carved, detailed reproductions of Belter’s circa 1850 designs. In June 1987, Warner told Nutshell News that the Belter Parlor holds the best pieces he had ever created.

Warner became a miniature-making team with his wife Gloria Warner. If one didn’t like to or couldn’t do one aspect of a miniature, the other one could. Gloria often upholstered the furniture that Thomas carved. In the Belter Parlor, Gloria also made the drapes, while Henry Whalon made the rugs.

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