Small Talk Tag: Miniature

Masterminding Historical Interiors

Thorne_CaliforniaLivingRoom

In the late 1930s, Eugene Kupjack read a magazine article about Narcissa Thorne’s miniature rooms. Kupjack, trained in art and set design, took pieces of Lucite and fashioned them into a chair, a dish, and tiny glasses. He mailed them off to Mrs. Thorne—and six weeks later, he got a phone call. Mrs. Thorne loved his work. Would he come create some pieces for her?

Kupjack’s work as the principle artisan on 37 of the 62 Thorne Rooms launched his career in miniature-making, and he is now considered to be a father of the art form. Kupjack created approximately 700 miniature rooms during his career. Over the decades, Kupjack worked with many different mediums, but became particularly interested in creating silver miniatures after famous historical pieces, including Martha Washington’s tea tray and Paul Revere’s tankard. Today, Kupjack’s sons are active miniature artisans, and his work continues to awe visitors at the Art Institute of Chicago and museums around the world. As one 1971 Thorne Rooms viewer mused, “To see them is to marvel at the magic of his fingers and the ingeniousness of his mind that created this tiny room.”

Preserving Historical Interiors

Thorne_CaliforniaLivingRoom

T/m’s miniature collection was greatly influenced by three spectacular commissions in the 1970s. We’ve already examined Queen Mary’s Doll House and Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, so now it’s time to examine the third: the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the 1920s, museums across the United States from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Detroit Institute of Arts were premiering full-scale period interiors. After traveling through Europe, Narcissa Thorne, daughter-in-law of the co-founder of Montgomery Ward and Company, dreamed of miniature rooms as a space-saving alternative to documenting, sharing, and preserving historical interiors.

Thorne began with 24 rooms that were exhibited to great acclaim between 1933 and 1940 at Chicago’s Century of Progress ExpositionSan Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition, and New York’s 1939-1940 World’s Fair. Over the years, she commissioned additional rooms for a total of 68 interiors spanning Europe from the late 13th century to the 1930s and America from the 17th century to the 1930s. They are now on view across the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago. We’ll be looking at some of the rooms in depth over time, but for now, check out this then-and-now postcard collection.

Photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne. California Living Room, 1850-1875, c. 1940 The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

The Magic of Color and Finish… On The Walls?

Hastrich Chest and Faux Paint Samples

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

Boston Beacon Hill Rooms

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.

Concluding An Art Nouveau Spring

Jardinere with Ruler

Spring turned into summer in the blink of an eye, so it’s time to wrap up our behind-the-scenes look at Linda LaRoche’s jardinière! After researching, sketching, carving, and assembling the pieces, LaRoche was almost finished with her jardinière. She faced one last challenge: it is a planter after all, and the full-scale jardinière has a watertight liner. How could LaRoche create a miniature liner?

The ingenious solution? Old paint tubes! LaRoche cut apart some of her used paint tubes and removed their inner lead liners. She flattened the liners, fitted them to the interior of the jardiniere’s basin, and voila! Every detail of the jardinière, from the precise carvings to the basin’s liner, matched the full-scale piece. After fourteen years of work, the jardinière was finally complete and ready for its place in the Masterpiece Gallery at T/m! We hope you enjoyed this journey through LaRoche’s creative process and are as inspired as we are by her ingenuity and dedication!

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