Small Talk Tag: Furniture

The Write Stuff

john davenport miniature

Several things might come to mind when you think of the word “secretary:” Dolly Parton’s character in the movie 9 to 5, current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, or maybe even the 1973 Triple Crown winner… oh wait, that’s Secretariat. In furniture, a secretary refers to a large cabinet with drawers, compartments, and a flat writing surface. Historically, secretaries vary in size, style, and functionality from very ornate to compact and sleek. Long before Siri sent emails for us, secretaries were all the rage.

Miniature artist John Davenport created the German Secretary pictured here based on designs from eighteenth-century schreibschränke (or writing cabinets). The secretary has 23 drawers fitted with brass hardware; three of which have a working lock and key. Most notably, a pair of one-point perspective marquetry landscapes adorn the outside, the larger of which is on the hinged panel that becomes the writing surface when opened. If you were about five inches tall, this secretary would be the perfect piece of furniture to pen your memoir, write a letter, or work on your blog!

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.

“The Finish and Color… is the Magic For Me”

hastrich's miniature furniture

Originally a maker of full-sized furniture (do you see another theme here?!), James Hastrich became engrossed in miniature making after constructing a 1/12th scale desk for a client. So much so that in 1977 he sold his furniture shop and fully devoted his time to the art of producing Early American painted furniture in fine-scale. Hastrich’s miniature furniture is hand painted using traditional methods and materials.

The artist’s sample box is based on one owned by Moses Eaton, a traveling painter specializing in faux graining and stenciling. Unlike the DIYers with their plastic grocery bag techniques today, the decorative painters of the 18th and 19th century were highly skilled. Eaton’s work adorned the walls of homes along the East Coast between 1800 and 1830. Hastrich replicated Eaton’s wood paint samples using historical methods such as vinegar grainingsmoke graining, and brush stroke graining.

Under a Magnifying Glass

paul runyon miniature

While we wish that we could walk into The Metropolitan Museum of Art to measure, study, and photograph a 200-year-old secretary, we aren’t all fortunate enough to be miniature artists. For Paul Runyon, this was just the first step in crafting a miniature version of the Goddard-Townsend block and shell desk and bookcase. Made by the Goddards and Townsends, two intermarried 18th century Rhode Island furniture-making families, the desk gets its name from the raised blocks and carved shells on its surface.

Runyon was so particular that he was known to discard his plans for a miniature if he couldn’t make every single part in exact 1/12th scale. He worked under a magnifying glass to assemble the secretary because some of the pieces are as thin as .028 (or 7/250th) of an inch. It took him almost a year to complete this extraordinary work of art.

Love Chest Revisited

Hadley Chest Behind-the-Scenes

We always feel very fortunate here at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures when artists give us a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of their masterpieces like this Hadley Chest by James Hastrich and Linda LaRoche. In order to accurately reproduce historical pieces such as the Hadley Chest at Historic Deerfield, museums grant artists access to collection objects so they can take detailed measurements and photographs.

In service to scale, miniature artists substitute woods like plum, pear, cherry and boxwood for the smaller grain. The smaller, tighter grain creates the same effect as the soft maple, chestnut, oak and white pine used on the full scale Hadley Chest.

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