Small Talk / Toys

Nettie’s Dollhouse Quilts

Dollhouse Quilts

Hands-on experience is one of the best ways to learn something new, and it’s all the better when it’s fun! For children, particularly girls in the nineteenth century like Nettie Wells, sewing was an important skill to learn in preparation for running a household later in life. Sadly, Nettie had to put her homemaking skills to work at an early age when her mother became ill.

Examples of Nettie’s sewing can be found among the accessories in her dollhouse including two doll-sized crazy quilts. The larger quilt showcases her aptitude creating different stitches among a variety of materials including silk, velvet, and cotton. Just like its , the smaller crazy quilt includes tiny embroidered figures, although you might have to use your imagination to figure out what they are. Can you spot a teacup, a key, and a face?

Nettie’s Dollhouse Classroom

Dollhouse classroom

When young Nettie Wells packed up her dollhouse for safe keeping, she probably never imagined it would end up in a museum someday. The contents include some really fun accessories that give us a look into how she played with the small house and her doll Gracie in the late nineteenth century.

One of our favorite accessories kept inside is this make-believe class attendance roster indicating Nettie played school with her doll Gracie. The cover of the little booklet reads, “Mrs. N. M. Wells” in perfect teacherly cursive. Inside, the names of Nettie’s pretend pupils are listed. Gracie of course had perfect attendance, which is pretty predictable when your mother is also your teacher!

Nettie’s Dollhouse Dolls

dollhouse doll

The contents stored inside the Nettie Wells dollhouse give us a special look at the playtime of a Victorian girl. Among them is a small bisque porcelain doll, who is unfortunately missing a few of her appendages. We learned from Nettie’s writings kept within the house that this doll’s name was Gracie and that Nettie considered herself Gracie’s mama.

It’s still unclear how Gracie may have suffered some bodily losses (we’ve ruled out the possibility of an older brother!), but we can tell from evidence on her muslin underwear that someone tried to repair her with glue. Gracie even had a smaller doll of her own. Nettie and Gracie must have had many imaginative adventures (or misadventures) together, judging from her many accessories, which we’ll peek into next time.

A Rare Bird

pedal car

Americans have been completely enamored of the automobile since the first ones rolled off the assembly lines and onto the streets. Both adults and children were captivated by the “horseless buggy,” as evidenced by this 1920s toy pedal car. Although wheeled mobility toys existed before this pedal car, Schmelzer’s Red Bird definitely came with all the modern stylishness of its motorized, full-scale counterparts.

Schmelzer’s Red Bird was manufactured by the Sidway Topliff Company of Washington, Pennsylvania for a department store here in Kansas City named Schmelzer’s Arms Co. Some of the features on this bad boy include yellow pinstripes, a winged hood ornament, and a hand brake that operates a stop sign in the rear above the license plate. The Red Bird is on view with other classic pedal cars in our temporary exhibit Pedal to the Metal: Pedal Cars and American Car Culture through August 28, 2016.

Nettie’s Dollhouse

Nettie Wells Dollhouse

Many of the nineteenth century dollhouses in T/m’s collection reflect the wealth and grandeur of the Gilded Age. One of our most treasured dollhouses from this time, however, isn’t grand at all—in fact, it’s fairly humble!

The smartly built Nettie Wells dollhouse was made for a middle class Kansas City girl by her father in the 1880s. Although it only has a couple rooms, the small wooden house has beautiful details like scalloped trim, starburst motifs, and a hinged roof in the back of the house allowing for play and easy storage. Like the larger dollhouses in our collection, Nettie’s dollhouse was a teaching tool for her adult life. Sadly, Nettie had to assume that role at the age of just twelve when her mother fell ill. It was at that time that she packed up her dollhouse and its contents, never to be played with by anyone again. Nettie’s granddaughter donated the dollhouse and its contents to the museum in 1994, giving us a rare glimpse into Nettie’s childhood over a century ago.

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