Small Talk

Artist Profile: Master Glassblower Francis D. Whittemore, Jr.

By Laura S. Taylor, Curator of Interpretation

One of the most striking comparisons of scale on exhibit at T/m is this full-size cranberry goblet alongside three shelves of 1:12 scale glass work by Francis Dyer Whittemore, Jr. (and one three-sided vase by Ferenc Albert).

Whittemore (1921-2020) was a self-taught glass artist who started making miniature glass bottles as a teenager using a Bunsen burner and the flame on his family’s gas water heater. He joined the Army at the end of 1942 with one year of college under his belt, and his enlistment papers recorded that he was “semi-skilled” in the “production of glass and glass products.” He served as a medic and interpreter during World War II and was appointed a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour for his efforts during the 1944 campaign to liberate France.

Whittemore’s entry in the 1945 Harvard Album lists him as a student studying Engineering Sciences. He went on to work at Dupont as a scientific glassblower, and although he continued to make miniatures, there wasn’t much of a market at that time and he eventually set it aside.

In the 1960s, Whittemore taught himself to make art glass paper weights, and his work can be found in the Wheaton Museum of American Glass, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Corning Museum of Glass. Fluent in French, he served as a consultant to Baccarat, the luxury French crystal company, and Perthshire Glass, a paperweight company in Scotland.

An accident in 1976 left him unable make paperweights, and he returned to making miniature glassware. This coincided with the beginning of the fine-scale miniature movement, and once more, Whittemore found success. He created glassware in several scales and vivid colors, preferring lead glass (glass with at least a 24% lead content) because it retains its brilliance indefinitely. He was constantly experimenting with shapes, molds, gold overlay, and cut glass. All of his glassware was hand-blown, and he worked with tools that he made himself, including carbon rods and v-shaped implements for flaring.

In a 1979 article for Miniature Collector, Francis described his love of glass blowing: “The concentration must be so intense, so absolutely complete. In addition to that, there is something fascinating about the flame and the fact that the glass itself is so seemingly alive. You never know when you start a piece whether or not it will come out the way you intend, or even if it will come out at all. The glass has a life all its own.”

Francis Whittemore’s career as a glassblower spanned 66 years! After he retired at the age of 83, he took up water color painting and continued to make art. He passed away in January of this year, but his legacy will live on at T/m. We count 308 Whittemore works in our collection, including lamps, vases, pitchers, punchbowls, decanters, and more.

Sources:

Harvard University, Harvard Album 1945 (Massachusetts, Harvard University, 1945), 176.

Huff and Lakjer Funeral Home, Inc. “Francis D. Whittemore, Jr.” January 4, 2020. http://www.huffandlakjer.com/obituary/francis-whittemore-jr.

Ide, Reed. “Master Miniaturist: Glass Artist Francis Whittemore.” Miniature Collector, June, 1979, 24-27.

“World War II Draft Card,” digital image, (https://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=2238&h=196456800&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=szL201&_phstart=successSource, accessed June 1, 2020, Draft Registration Card for Francis Whittemore, Birth Date: January 6, 1021; Serial Number 1021. The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; Draft Registration Cards for Massachusetts, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 1023.

Secondary Spaces

By Laura S. Taylor, Curator of Interpretation

One of the most intriguing aspects of fine-scale miniatures is the secondary spaces that can be glimpsed through those tiny windows and doors. Tantalizing hints of what lies beyond the primary room setting engage our sense of mystery and imagination.

One can gain a deeper understanding of the artists’ interpretive decisions by examining the secondary spaces in their work. From the perspective of the room, to the lighting, to the dimensionality, each artist handles these details with their own special twist. I’ve highlighted three room settings with secondary spaces that are especially intricate.

Art Deco Jewelry Store
Viewers are often so dazzled by the stunning interior of the Art Deco Jewelry Store that they don’t consciously notice the details beyond the silvered-plated doors. Based on the SS Normandie, Niemen Marcus in Chicago, and the Cincinnati Netherland Hotel, the elegant, two-story room is a multilayered masterpiece. The walls are clad in rosewood paneling, and the floor, columns, and baseboards feature six different types of faux-painted marble. The work was commissioned from English fine-scale architectural artists Susie Rogers and Kevin Mulvany. Lori Ann Potts of Canada created the glittering Art Deco jewelry, and María José Santos of Spain made the stylish trio of 1920s figures.

The building façade “across the street” from the Art Deco Jewelry Store is visible in this photo.

When Barbara Marshall commissioned the room setting, she identified a specific location for its display in the Miniature Maze. The narrow dimensions challenged Mulvany and Rogers to communicate grandeur in a very compact space. They designed a circular sales floor that is mirrored by a gilded, elliptical ceiling. A screened-off lobby and balcony provide a feast for the eyes with bejeweled niches, hand-engraved elevator doors, and elevator car interiors based on the Empire State Building.

Mulvany and Rogers chose dusk for the lighting because it is “a magical time of day representing the change from light to dark. It is the time when the interior becomes more important than the exterior; a time for rooms to glitter and glow.” They created a building façade to sit “across the street” from the store in faux gray stone with multiple windows. Once all the parts of the work of art arrived in Kansas City, artist William R. Robertson designed the lighting system and added the glowing street lamps and blue Packard Sedan model for additional depth and detail.

Building façade, street lamps, and Packard behind the Art Deco Jewelry Store.


Tudor Bedroom
T/m’s collection includes three room settings by Kansas City artist Thomas Warner (1924-1992). All three works have secondary spaces, but Warner chose to handle them each differently. The first, the paneled Colonial Dining Room, has a pair of doors that lead to an entrance hall with an exterior door, a niche bookcase, and a newel post that hints at a second floor. The second, the Belter Parlor, was created with his wife Gloria, and has a simple pictorial treatment of farm fields and trees that can be seen beyond the open front door and the lacy-curtained windows on the back wall.

The third, and most fascinating, is the Tudor Bedroom, circa 1580. Like the Art Deco Jewelry Store, the interior of the chamber is impressive with complexly-carved paneling, a heavily-curtained bed, a prie-dieu for private devotions, elaborate textiles, and an embroidery frame that is placed near the recessed window to catch the light.

Tudor Bedroom, 1987-1996, Thomas Warner, American

The arched windows are set with wavy panes of glass that distort the view of the outdoors. Nonetheless, Warner designed the detailed façade of a medieval stone building which sits diagonally in the wall next to the room box.  Despite the fact that the viewer must stand to the far left in order to peer through the window, the artist went to great lengths to extend the illusion of reality.

The stone building façade is only visible beyond the window in the alcove of the room.

This behind-the-scenes shot reveals the relationship between the room setting and the façade.

Tom Warner started the room setting in 1987, but sadly, he passed away before its completion. His friend and fellow artist, William R. Robertson, finished the Tudor Bedroom to Warner’s specifications in 1996.

Charles Larsson Studio
One of the most detailed secondary spaces is part of the Charles Larsson Studio, circa 1894-1897 in the Miniature Maze. Miniaturist Noral Olson (1921-2015) first mentioned the idea of doing a room from the artist’s home in Sundborg, Sweden, to Barbara Marshall in a letter dated December 1991. The home, called Lilla Hyttnäs, was well-documented in Larsson’s iconic paintings. Marshall, a fan of Larsson, liked the idea, and Olson eventually submitted a proposal to create the home’s drawing room in 1993.

However, Marshall felt that this would not be the best representation of Larsson as an artist. She pressed Olson to consider the studio/workshop next to the drawing room. Olson confessed that he had originally wanted to do this room but was stymied by some of the logistics of the space. Marshall responded by commissioning the studio AND the drawing room, challenging him to find a way to display both rooms.

Carl Larsson’s Studio, 1996, Noral Olson, American

Olson’s solution did not disappoint! The primary room—the studio/workshop—is presented to the viewer as a “slice” with a floor plan that is wider at one end than the other.  Additionally, the work sits in an angled wall in the Miniature Maze. This allows the viewer a better perspective on the secondary space which can only be viewed through a window on the far wall. It is a fully-furnished room despite the fact that it can only be seen through the tiny opening.

The Drawing Room is visible through the interior window in Carl Larsson’s Studio.

Most ingenious is the utilization of a mirror on the back wall of the drawing room. Looking across the studio, through the window, and into the mirror, the viewer can see the furniture on the opposite wall!

Through the interior window, the beautifully-tiled fireplace and the gold-framed mirror is visible.

Overhead view of the drawing room behind Carl Larsson’s Studio. The window on the right is the viewing point for the room. The gold mirror on the left allows the viewer to see the clock, desk, chair, and wall decoration on the opposite wall.

Interior view of the drawing room behind Carl Larsson’s Studio. This wall would not be visible without the use of a mirror.

An additional bonus is another secondary space—on the wide end of the studio, the door is open to reveal the hallway and staircase to the second floor.

Through the double doors, viewers catch a glimpse of the hall and stairs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at these special secondary spaces, and you will take the time to search for them (and others!) when next you visit T/m.

We continue to collect information about artists for our digital files on the fine-scale miniature art movement. If you have any biographical information, photos, or anecdotes you would like to share about Noral Olson or Thomas Warner, please e-mail info@toyandminiaturemuseum.org.

Sources

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, December 15, 1991, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Barbara Marshall, Draft Letter to Noral Olson, undated, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, December 12, 1993, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, January 17, 1994, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, January 7, 1994, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, September 22, 1994, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, June 3, 1995, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, February 13, 1996, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Noral Olson, Letter to Barbara Marshall, November 14, 1996, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Object Files, Kansas City, MO.

Susie Rogers, E-mail to Laura S. Taylor, August 22, 2012, The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Research Files, Kansas City, MO.

Wm. R. Robertson, conversation with the author, Kansas City, MO, May 5, 2020.

The Obadiah Collection

18k gold water kettle and warmer, 1989

By Laura Taylor, Curator of Interpretation

In one of the largest cities in the world, Obadiah Fisher (1941-2005) made a name for himself by creating tiny art. Working in his studio loft in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, the transplanted Brooklynite produced the Obadiah Collection, a catalog of historic silver and gold pieces in fine-scale, paying homage to the great silversmiths of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Obadiah Fisher came to the Big Apple as an accomplished sculptor and jewelry maker in 1966. He found work in the city’s commercial jewelry industry in both manufacturing and design but eventually left to pursue freelance opportunities. The Metropolitan Museum of Art commissioned him to produce models of Egyptian jewelry for the blockbuster exhibition Treasures of Tutankhamun (King Tut), and he worked with both the Brooklyn Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art on reproducing Egyptian and Peruvian jewelry.

In the late 1970s, a studio visit from Elisabett Andrews would change the course of Fisher’s career. Andrews, a fine-scale porcelain artist, was there to view his custom-designed jewelry and suggested that he try making fine-scale silver miniatures. Intrigued, Fisher selected some full-scale works to reproduce in 1:12 scale. His first works were sold by famed dollhouse expert Flora Gill Jacobs in the gift shop of her Washington Toy and Dollhouse Museum (in the District of Columbia).

Sterling silver oval scalloped Tray after Paul Revere, circa 1797, Date Unknown

Fisher became hooked and amassed a library of books and magazines featuring historic designs for research. He always started by making a pencil sketch and determining what details made up the essence of the piece. Employing the lost wax casting process, he carved a wax model of the piece and then created a rubber mold, allowing for 10% shrinkage. A commercial company cast the miniatures, and Fisher polished them himself.  He began teaching wax model making at his own private school where he was known as “Obie” to his students.

T/m’s collection contains 65 works in silver and gold by Fisher, including one of his masterpieces, a William III Monteith Bowl after Benjamin Pyne, circa 1699. Measuring just three quarters of an inch in height and 1 3/16 inches in width, the bowl features eight ornate scallops on the rim from which punch cups were hung. The bowl contained water so the cups could be rinsed between wine courses or chilled for cold wine.

Sterling silver William III Monteith Bowl after Benjamin Pyne, circa 1699, Date Unknown

Fisher described his work in 1992 to writer Lillian Wachtel: “With my visors on, I go off into a world of tiny detail that can’t be seen by the naked eye. My vision is narrowed down to just those diminutive areas. It feels like a bit of pleasant escapism, like being in a whole other world.”

T/m continues to compile digital archives for fine-scale artists and welcomes contributions from the public. If you knew Obadiah Fisher and have any biographical information, stories, or photographs you would like to share, please contact us at: info@toyandminiaturemuseum.org.

Obadiah Fisher lights up the room at the opening of the exhibit Small Wonders: The Delightful World of Miniatures at the National Geographic Society’s Explorer Hall, 1987. Photograph courtesy of William R. Robertson

Sources:

Cook, Jan Leslie. “Marvels in Miniature.” Historic Preservation (August 1985): 28.

Frank, Alice and Lee Frank. A Reference Guide to Miniature Makers Mark. Minneapolis, MN: Thomas-Shore, Inc., 1996.

Wachtel, Lillian. “A Silversmith on the Waterfront.” Miniature Collector (August 1992): 44-46.

Winter, Marguerite. “Silver in Miniature.” Miniature Collector (September/October 1995): 17.

 

Dollhouse Histories: The Pierce Dollhouse, 1868

Dollhouse Histories: The Pierce Dollhouse, 1868

By Laura Taylor, T/m Curator of Interpretation, with assistance from MaryJean Allen

Children’s dollhouses were a weakness for T/m co-founder Mary Harris Francis. She acquired her first, the New Rochelle Mystery House, in 1974, and told her husband that she would “never need another.” Luckily for us, she kept collecting! Pristine condition or fixer-upper, Mary Harris Francis loved them all.

Today, T/m has over 250 children’s dollhouses in its collection! There are far too many to display them all, but our recent temporary exhibit, A Space of Our Own: Dollhouses of the 20th Century (April 20, 2019-January 27, 2020), allowed us to show off some recent acquisitions that had never been exhibited before.

In the 19th century, custom-built dollhouses became a popular toy for children of wealthy families, both in Europe and America. One such example is the Pierce Dollhouse, commissioned by Charles Stewart Pierce for his granddaughters, Mary Louise (1864-1872) and Annie Maria (1866-1888). The successful owner of the Pierce Lumber company in Buffalo, New York, Mr. Pierce had the dollhouse built by one of his cabinet maker employees as a replica of the family home at 675 Delaware Ave. in 1868. Delaware Avenue was known as “Millionaire Row” back then.

Pierce Family Home, 675 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, New York

The dollhouse is quite an impressive size—54 ¾ inches tall, 43 ¼ inches wide, and 31 inches deep—and possesses a mansard roof, cupola, and dormer windows. The roof is covered with over 1000 individually cut miniature shingles. It is accessed through two hinged doors that fold flat on either side of the house. A separate panel covers the front and upper halls. This panel includes the front door with enamel knob and a transom window stamped with the street number 675.

The house has six rooms: a front hall, a parlor, a dining room, an upper hall, a nursery, and a bedroom. Mary Louise Pierce was blind, and the dollhouse may have assisted her in learning about the Pierce family home by touch. Sadly, she lived only eight years. The dollhouse was then played with by Annie Maria Pierce, and then the third sister, Helen Loud Pierce.

The dollhouse was eventually stored in the coach house where it rested for 70 years. In 1963, the dollhouse was saved by Mrs. George (Jeannine) Steinmetz, the wife of Charles Pierce Stewart’s great-great grandson. She and George’s aunt, Jane Pierce Whiteside, made the trip to Buffalo to rescue the dollhouse before the original house at 675 Delaware was torn down. She purchased the dollhouse at auction for the sum of $11.

Jeannine lovingly restored the dollhouse, furnishing it with period-appropriate pieces. She even created miniature versions of the family portraits to hang in the small rooms through the clever use of photography. In 2014, Jeannine’s daughters, Carolyn Griffith and MaryJean Allen, donated the dollhouse to T/m along with oil paintings of Mary Louise and Anna Maria and a scrapbook full of memories.

Mary Louise Pierce, Artist Unknown, c. 1870

Annie Maria Pierce, Artist Unknown, c. 1870

Stay tuned for dollhouse histories from the A Space of Our Own exhibit in the coming weeks!

 

 

 

Toy Stitchers: A Passion for Toy Sewing Machines of Bygone Days

Long before today’s world of online ordering, children anxiously awaited the delivery of mail order catalogs. When they finally arrived, the toy section was excitedly scrutinized for the birthday or holiday wish list.  Tucked in the pages of sales catalogs dating from the 1880s to the 1960s were girl-intended play items geared for “Good Little Housekeepers,” such as dolls, tea sets, play stoves, and TOY SEWING MACHINES.

With names like Little Lady, Junior Miss, American Girl, Baby, and Sotoy, the virtues of the toy sewing machine were branded to entice a purchase. Descriptions such as “instructive and practical,” “teach little daughter to sew dolly’s clothes,” “sew like mother,” and “excellent for use in kindergartens and primary schools” were selling points to justify the purchase price of 45 cents and up!

Old ads are great resources to help collectors document and date toy sewing machines.

Today, the motivation to acquire these prized toy sewing machines (also known as TSMs) is varied.  Some seek to replace a long-lost childhood toy or to acquire one never received in childhood. Some are smitten by the aesthetic beauty, while others are intrigued by the machine’s mechanics. History buffs appreciate the opportunity that TSMs afford to examine the changing roles of females through the twentieth century. Other TSM history detectives immerse themselves in details of a specific manufacturer, some of which were run by multi-generation family members and produced the machines for many decades through two World Wars.  Still others find a toy sewing machine the perfect companion in a sewing room or as an accessory for their beloved sewing hobby. Today, passionate collectors include both women and men.

A trio of beautiful TSMs: F.W. Müller Model Numbers. 10, 15, and 20, Berlin Germany, c. 1902 and later, shown with a reproduction of a Müller leaflet 1910-1914.

So what distinguishes a toy sewing machine from its adult counterpart? One would expect the small size to be the distinguishing factor, but since some hand-operated adult machines were very small (even smaller than a typical toy model), size isn’t always a reliable determiner.  TSM collectors tend to agree that the best qualifier of a bona fide toy sewing machine is the manufacturer’s intention, meaning the machine was advertised for use as a toy or for use with children. Some manufacturers specified that their products were not toys, but real sewing machines for girls. For those manufacturers, the use of the word “toy” may have implied lower quality.  Some enterprising manufacturers promoted their machines to be used by both adults and children (“convenient for ladies while traveling and for little girls”), thus increasing clientele. In some cases, sewing machine companies produced both full-size adult machines as well as the smaller child’s machine, potentially trying to encourage brand loyalty for a lifetime.

Singer No. 20, the first child’s sewing machine produced by this famous company in 1910; Trade cards show both children and women using this model.

A common feature of TSMs is that they use a single spool of thread to make a removable chain stitch by either a revolving or reciprocating hook. Most adult machines use two threads to create a more permanent lockstitch. Finally, a large majority of vintage TSMs are powered by manually turning the hand wheel, while their adult counterparts of the 1900s were treadle- or electric-powered. Early models of electric TSMs are uncommon (Thankfully, in this writer’s opinion!), and a child’s treadle is indeed a rare find compared to the typical hand-operated model.

Two-year-old Hilary Abel with a Little Tot child’s treadle sewing machine. The sewing table is 21″ high. Engraved into the stitch plate is “Cleveland, O. Pat. Nov.28, 1882.”

Hundreds of toy sewing machine variations (including color, shape, size, decorative designs, manufacturer, and construction materials) were mass produced in numerous countries during the span of 75 or so years in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This certainly provides something for every toy sewing machine lover’s taste and budget, and are easily located with the help of today’s technology.

Margie Abel with her collection, on exhibit at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures through June 3, 2019

All TSMs shown are from Margie Abel’s collection. Anyone interested in toy sewing machines is welcome to join other kindred spirits with a membership in TSII (Toy Stitchers International, Inc.), the first and largest organization of TSM collectors in the world.  The Toy Stitcher is the official publication of TSII.  Website: www.toystitchers.org

Margie Abel
Toy Sewing Machine Collector