“There is an extraordinary fascination and charm about smallness…a special satisfaction in creating a tiny replica of any object.” –Clifford Musgrave commenting on Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House in Windsor Castle
One of the added perks of working at the Main library is the fact that it is attached to both a Natural History Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art. Hypothetically, this means that I should be able to spend my lunch breaks learning all I can about artists like Paul Thek as well as dinosaurs and evolution. I rarely take advantage of these perks, but I do occasionally drop into the art museum when I need a pick-me-up, and I usually make a beeline for my favorite collection: the miniatures.
Tucked into a small hallway between the Hall of Sculpture and the Hall of Architecture, the miniatures collection feels like a tiny secret. It’s comprised of eleven scenes and includes dining rooms, sitting rooms, an entertaining parlour, each equipped with miniature minutiae—tiny lamps, telephones, books, board games, ashtrays, clocks, dishes and the like. According to an esteemed co-worker, these rooms were purposely ransacked for a past art exhibit, so that their tiny displays of aristocratic living were transformed into the ruins and excess of an all-night, binge drinking wild party night (I would like to see a picture of this, if anyone knows where to find one). Luckily, peace has been restored to the proper little rooms. According to the sign describing the collection, this “suite of miniatures opened to the public in 1969….The collection of approximately 350 objects on view were given to the museum by the estate of Sarah Mellon Scaife,” and some of the rooms are even modeled after rooms in Mrs. Scaife’s actual houses.
I have often marveled at the craftsmanship that goes into these tiny, abbreviated works of art and recently did a catalog search to see what sorts of books we carry on miniatures. I was delighted to find that not only do we have numerous books dedicated to the art of the miniature, but we also have an interesting collection of instructional books on everything from making dollhouse furniture to miniature birds, to tiny foods and cards. To use one of my favorite artists Alexander Calder’s words, making miniatures is like engaging in “a little private celebration.” If you need a break from words, I suggest taking a look at these delightful works of haiku in object form.
PS – This post is also partially inspired by one of my favorite characters on the television show The Wire, Lester Freamon, a homicide detective and dollhouse miniature maker extraordinaire.