Small Talk / Museum

New Acquisitions of Fine-Scale Miniatures

Did you ever wonder how T/m has built such an amazing collection of fine-scale miniatures? Barbara Marshall, the museum’s co-founder started collecting miniatures in the 1950s with a 1:12 scale rocking chair made by Eric Pearson. In the 1970s, Mrs. Marshall got involved with the contemporary fine-scale miniature movement and developed a reputation for being a generous patron with an eye for great art. Many miniature artists talk about how Mrs. Marshall would ask them what they had always dreamed of making, then commission them to do just that.

Barbara Marshall continued to develop the collection by attending the largest and most well-regarded miniature show in the country, Chicago International. Museum staff members remember Mrs. Marshall returning from her annual trips to Chicago with a couple of shopping bags full of exquisite miniatures.

Mrs. Marshall retired from the museum in 2010, and the museum staff took a hiatus from collecting miniatures to focus on a major renovation.  That changed in 2017 when T/m hosted Miniature Masterworks, a juried showcase and sale. Sixty-seven artists came to Kansas City from around the world to participate, and many of them entered the competition for the Barbara Marshall Award for Artistic Achievement. With its incredible success in bringing artists and collectors together, T/m recently announced the next Miniature Masterworks, scheduled for September 17-19, 2021.

T/m curators Amy McKune and Laura Taylor selected a small number of artworks to purchase during Miniature Masterworks 2017, then scheduled a trip to the Chicago International Show in April 2018. Laura had attended the show twice before, most recently in 2011, but the 2018 show was the first for Amy. We knew many of the exhibiting artists from their participation in Miniature Masterworks.

Before leaving for Chicago, we identified some collecting goals. We wanted to acquire new work by artists already represented in the collection to exemplify how their work has evolved since 2010. We also wanted to discover new artists whose work meets Mrs. Marshall’s exacting standards. While we did not have the resources to return with two shopping bags full of objects, we did have the funds to make a few strategic purchases, some of which are featured in this post. There is also a new case in the miniature gallery to highlight new acquisitions, including some of those purchased in 2017 and 2018.

Next month, we’ll once again be attending Chicago International. Stay tuned for a post later this year that will highlight our 2019 purchases.


This 6-3/4” x 2-1/4” lowboard by Spanish artist Fernando Setien is based on a 1959 Paola Lowboard by Belgian furniture designer Oswald Vermaercke. The lowboard is named for Paola who married the Prince of Liege in 1959. She became the queen of Belgium when her husband, King Albert II, ascended to the throne in 1993. Setien has been creating fine-scale miniatures for only a few years, but his work displays a great deal of sophistication and artistry.















With the financial support of our dedicated volunteers, T/m purchased this 3-15/16″ x 11-15/16″ aquarium made by Miyuki Kobayashi (Japanese). Kobayashi molds the aquatic life out of clay, then positions them in poured resin. The colorful fish appear to be swimming in water, just as they do in a full-scale aquarium.




















Barbara Marshall has been purchasing exquisite silver and gold pieces from Jens Torp (Danish, working in England) since 1995. This 1-13/16” high candlestick features the artist’s own design, which he created during a master class he was teaching at Miniature I Tune (, an international summer school in Greve, Denmark.








Since 1981, Jane Graber (American) has worked full-time creating fine-scale miniatures, and Mrs. Marshall has been her patron almost from the start. Many of the artworks by Graber in T/m’s collection are redware and stoneware. She only recently began working in the Arts and Crafts style of these three 3/4” tall daffodil vases.












Christmas Traditions at T/m

“Christmas was on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolved.” – Ralphie Parker, A Christmas Story, 1983

That lovely, glorious, beautiful time is upon us once again, and at T/m, our year definitely revolves around it. Our cases are full of memories from Christmases past, and our halls echo with the nostalgic exclamations of children and children-at-heart, both for the toys they had and the toys they longed for.

Our official holiday season begins just before Thanksgiving when we put up our big Christmas tree in the museum’s lobby. Over twelve feet tall, the tree is topped with a stovepipe hat, a nod to Frosty the Snowman. It is decorated with glass ornaments, including several Santas donated by long-time volunteer and miniaturist Bud Koupal. When the tree is ready, Bud hangs the finishing touch, a glass gingerbread house he and his late wife Jan purchased together at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art many years ago.

The Tureman Education Center is decorated with a tree, garlands, and twinkling lights in preparation for our holiday workshop the day after Thanksgiving. For those who are looking forward to some family time on Black Friday, we hope you will join us this year in making your own miniature Christmas tree complete with ornaments and a tree skirt.

Our Playing for Keeps exhibit will also have its own silver tinsel tree to complement the mid-century theme of the exhibit. Collections Manager Calleen Carver has already posed for her holiday photo next to our MAJOR AWARD (leg lamp).

Some of the halls we deck are very tiny. Twin Manors, the 1:12 scale Georgian mansion created by artist William R. Robertson, has its own set of miniature decorations. You won’t find a Christmas tree in this house because the custom was not popular in colonial America. Instead, it is adorned with petite boughs of evergreen and a holly ball that hangs in the center hall. The kitchen table is heavy with holiday treats that are waiting to be served in the dining room.

Coleman House, the museum’s largest dollhouse, also has its own Yuletide decorations. The nine-foot-tall dollhouse was built for the children of a Pennsylvania iron baron in the 1860s. A twenty-three-inch Christmas tree festooned with Victorian scrap paper ornaments stands in the dining room, and a delicate garland is laced through the balustrade of the center stair case. On December 1st, we will host the world’s smallest “open house”—the doors of the dollhouse will be unlocked and educator Katherine Mercier will give “tours” all day!

Just a few feet away from Coleman House, Miss Mary will make her annual appearance in The Doll Gallery. This rare and important doll was made by artist Izannah Walker as a gift for Mary Estelle Newell in 1861. Miss Mary presides over the season from Thanksgiving to Epiphany (January 6th), and then she settles in for a long winter’s rest (to preserve her for future generations).

Amy McKune, the curator of collections, has assembled some additional holiday-themed miniatures to delight our visitors. This includes a sterling silver menorah measuring just 2 5/8 inches high by William Meyers, needlepoint stockings in 1:12 scale by Martha Farnsworth, and a miniature of a miniature Christmas tree with trimmings by Nell Corkin. These will be on view until Epiphany as well.

Father Christmas will make his annual appearance at T/m on Sunday, December 16 from 1-2:30 pm. Jim “Two Crows” Wallen, story teller extraordinaire, will be telling folk tales from all over the world. We’ll be serving cookies and cocoa, and Father Christmas will be available for sweet photos.

The best thing about this time of year at T/m is, by far, the visitors who have made us part of their holiday tradition over the years. We treasure the stories you share, and we love that our programs and exhibits have been woven into the fabric of your family memories. We hope that over the next few weeks you will find time to join us once again!

Laura Taylor
Curator of Interpretation



Factories in the Business of Play

tin toys

At The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, the Toys, Inc. story continues into the 19th century as toy making graduated from homes to factories and machines replaced manual labor. With low profit margins and a time-consuming process, the cottage industry had difficulty bringing home any bacon. On the other hand, factories were able to boost production with steam-powered engines and mechanized processes that churned out large quantities of toys.

To maintain their dominance in the market, Germany turned to tin toys (or maybe it was because they had depleted the country’s wood supply?). Tin was cheap to produce, lightweight to ship, and could be easily decorated. A win, win, win! Wanting a piece of the pie, America entered the toy production game with a readily available material from the country’s prolific railroad construction: cast iron. By utilizing an easily obtainable material, the U.S. could produce toys that were less expensive than German imports. Can you say cha-ching?!

Cottage Industries in the Business of Play

Cottage Industries

Toys aren’t all fun and games, they’re also a thriving 84-billion-dollar global industry! Surprisingly though, the industry is only 200 years old. Yet, it’s come a long way from small shops to enormous corporations of the likes of Hasbro and Mattel. But, let’s go back to the beginning with T/m’s permanent exhibition Toys, Inc. The Making of an Industry.

Once upon a time, in the 18th century forested regions of Germany, farming and mining families made wooden toys to supplement their incomes. These carved peg dolls and Noah’s Arks were the beginning of the modern toy industry. Early wooden toy makers often utilized their entire family in turning, carving, and painting processes. This household production of goods was coined a “cottage industry” because toy makers were quite literally being industrious in their cottages!

Building a Fine-Scale Collection

fine-scale miniature

What started as a souvenir in the 1950s, became a serious collection by the 1970s, a museum by 1982, and is today the world’s largest and finest collection. Museum co-founder Barbara Marshall combined her love for small things with an eye for detail refined throughout her professional career in Hallmark’s art department and volunteer service at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The combination resulted in a patron that desired only the highest quality work from artists that could meet her standards.

Marshall encouraged artists to create their dream fine-scale works, allowing many artists to explore the boundaries of the art form. The outcomes can be seen throughout T/m’s miniature galleries, including Emperor Charles V of Spain and Queen Isabella of Portugal.