Small Talk Tag: Miniature

The Adorned Thorne Rooms

thorne rooms christmas

Have you ever wanted to peek into the delight and spirit of holiday seasons gone by? Well, we have good news. One of the most festive holiday traditions at The Art Institute of Chicago is the annual decking of the Thorne Rooms’ halls. Some of the tiny period rooms don long garlands and dainty, dangling mistletoe. In the English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, for example, a miniature Christmas tree sits atop a small table, complete with tall red candles on its limbs and a set of dolls resting beneath its bottom branches. In the modern-era California Hallway, a tiny blue menorah sits on a coffee table next to a box holding a dreidel.

In addition to regional, historically accurate décor in several other period rooms, this year’s special display also includes new decorations in honor of the Chinese New Year, a 15-day celebration marked by the lunar calendar. Common commemorative accents in the display will include tiny lanterns, floral arrangements, and banners inscribed with traditional Chinese sayings and idioms.

Photo: Mrs. James Thorne. English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, 1840-70 (detail), c. 1937. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Dashing Through the Snow

carol hardy miniatures

It’s the time of year for wintery carriage rides and festive carols! Written in 1857, “Jingle Bells,” one of the most popular songs of all time was, originally titled “The One Horse Open Sleigh.” It’s been sung the world over, and was even the first song performed in outer space. We like to think that this miniature Victorian sleigh is the one from the famous carol.

Artist Carol Hardy steam-bent pieces of wood to create the graceful curves of the runners and dash. The leg supports were fashioned from gleaming German silver. The sleigh’s body consists of black-painted cherry wood and the seats are upholstered in luxurious burgundy suede. Oh, what fun it would be to ride in this miniature open sleigh!

Renaissance Woman

lee ann chellis wessel ceramics

A large portion of Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel’s work focuses on re-creating Renaissance masterpieces in miniature. Like a modern day Renaissance woman, Chellis Wessel not only excels at painting miniature renditions of egg tempera masterworks like this version of Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni, but also Renaissance period maiolica (or majolica or mayólica, depending on where it’s from) ceramics.

Much like her egg tempera work, Chellis Wessel’s miniature maiolica is made using the same process as full-scale pottery. First created in the ancient Middle East, maiolica  is made by covering a clay vessel with a white glaze that has been made opaque by the addition of tin. The white glaze provides a blank canvas for the metallic oxide designs that are layered on top and become fused to the background during the firing process. The results are the same whether in full-scale or fine-scale miniature: a beautiful multicolored piece of pottery.

A spot of tea, literally!

anchor jensen seattle

Here at T/m we’re continually amazed by the ‘little’ details found in every nook and corner of the Boston Beacon Hill House. This picture of the Paul Revere oval fluted teapot really demonstrates the scale of this ¼” miniature.

Designed and crafted by Seattle jeweler Anchor Jenson, the teapot features engravings, a hollow spout, and hinged lid. Smaller than a pencil eraser, the teapot is accompanied by a sugar and creamer which are comparable in size to grains of rice. Now that’s small! And lest you forget, like other miniatures, this functions exactly like it’s full size counterpart. However, silver is too small to polish, so this one is made out of white gold. A spot of tea anyone?

A Southwestern Sanctuary

thorne rooms new mexico dining room

The famous miniature Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago range from historical replicas influenced by patron and artist Narcissa Thorne’s travels abroad to striking reproductions of regional American home décor. These special rooms have been viewed, studied and enjoyed by generations (and even inspired a series of juvenile fiction books!).

The inspiration for one of our favorite works in the collection originates far from Thorne’s home in the Windy City. New Mexico Dining Room, c. 1940 includes small touches of both Pueblo Indian and Southwest American life, a style known as Pueblo Revival. Thorne’s eye for detail is not only apparent in the objects she chose to incorporate in the room setting, but also in the room construction itself. The kiva in the right corner of the room appears well-used with charring around its opening.  Colorful hand-loomed rugs, festively painted chairs, tiny retablos and intricately carved furniture all speak to the regional flavor that attracted many artists during New Mexico state’s early years.

Photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne. A34: New Mexico Dining Room, c.1940. c.1940. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

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