mini.Futures

MINIATURES PAST AND WAY BEYOND

I am loving the 1/6th scale doll and Barbie doll explosion in the miniature world. It’s truly a millennial hobby and art form that gives me confidence that the miniature passion and lifestyle continues on to future generations. This is not just collecting Barbie and Ken dolls, but a reality-TV inspired display of mini-fashionistas, lifestyle situations, dolls basking in bling-bling room interiors, and mini luxurys vehicles. In most cases, the dolls are often not Barbie dolls but dolls created by the very, very popular Phicen Company and the dolls are as realistic in look and feel as a 1/6th scale doll can possibly be.

I grew up with Barbie Dolls and had a Christie, introduced in 1968. Christie was not the first Barbie doll of color (that was Francie) but definitely the first African American Barbie doll. The “Black Barbie” was launched in 1980 but still had Caucasian features albeit dark skin. Mattel got its act together and in September 2009, introduced the So In Style dolls, which was intended to celebrate the many hues and features of African Americans–the line includes seven skin tones, twenty-two eye colors, and twenty-four hairstyles.

I lived in New York City in the 1990s and FAO Schwartz was (and still is) a fancy toy store at 30 Rockefeller Plaza that had a Barbie Collectibles wing. At least once a year, I’d stroll through that wing, enjoying the history, past and latest fashions and the Barbie dolls with themes based on what was trending. This was pre-social media and the very dawn of the Internet so I remember Madonna, acid-washed jeans, graffiti finally recognized as a form of artistic expression and the world starting to embrace hip-hop.

So, I have enjoyed the posts of my fellow miniaturist and friend, Cody Brook’s @StovalltheDoll and the daily activities of Stovall and his “doll world”; the detail of the scale, the accessories, and most of all, the fashion are amazing–Stovall and his doll friends are some fashionable dudes.

Anyway, the Barbie Expo in Montréal’s Les Cours Mont-Royal, an upscale shopping center in downtown Montreal, Quebec, Canada, is a showcase of different clothes, styles designed for Barbie dolls by some of the world’s most famous designers and stylists. I think Carol Katz’s testimony of the expo is the perfect review and testimonial of this groundbreaking showcase that also provides a fun and visually stunning platform for fashion, style, and miniature art for all ages.

Here’s the virtual expo of the Barbie Expo. The expo is the largest permanent exhibition of Barbie dolls in the world, and features over 1,000 Barbies, including Hollywood stars, unique one-of-a-kind Barbie dolls and glamorous outfits created by famous fashion designers.

Carol Katz’s Video Review of the Barbie Expo

Back in 2006, I moved to Boston, Massachusetts after landing my first library management gig at the Harvard Business School, Baker Library/Bloomberg Center, giving me the opportunity to leave Washington, D.C. and finally live and work in New England; something I’d wanted to do for a long time. Needless to say, Boston, MA is worlds apart from the “Chocolate City” even if they do both share a coast. The level of culture shock rattled all of my cultural sensors. I had a long period of adjustment, refinement, and adaption that took me all the way back to my experience of moving from Dallas, Texas to New York City in my early twenties.

The weather, very little racial diversity, the accent, working at an R1 institution, and being in a very New England town required months of feeling like a character in a Twilight Zone episode. Then it all came together: I had easy access to lobster and Portuguese bakeries; I loved, loved the architecture and the history of the region; I embraced the North and South Shore lifestyle and the amazing regional food; I began to understand how diversity looks in New England (Portuguese, Cape Verdean, Haitian, French-Canadian, etc.); AND, I discovered Cape Cod. I visited Cape Cod for long weekends in the past but that was just a taste; I was introduced to the lifestyle, the “Upper Cape” and “Lower Cape”communities, glorious Provincetown (Ptown) and the many, many dimensions of Martha’s Vineyard.

The East Coast boasts a very active miniature community and Boston was my gateway to quirky miniature stores, events and miniaturist connections all the way up to the state of Maine.

But those first six months were hard, not to mention adjusting to a challenging management role and a new job in a very different library workplace. What kept me going and gave me space for respite, escape and reflection was the amazing Schwartz Art Collection that filled the halls and common spaces of the Harvard Business School. I have never forgotten it, and the collection is both contemporary art, diverse and continues to grow and represent an impressive swath of the art world, a testament to the masterful curation.

The mission and purpose of the Schwartz Collection is to inspire students to think creatively and incorporate art into their lives.

I roamed those halls during breaks and sat in the common areas during lunch time and especially after work, not wanting to face the T heading home. I loved all of the contemporary artists and the range of art: (prints, posters, comic strips, photography, etc.) I was introduced to some of my favorite artists: Sally Davies, Carrie Mae Weems, Radcliffe Bailey, Marjorie Weiss, Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison, Teun Hocks, and Mark Bischel, but the spark that pushed me out of my loneliness, adjustment period and feeling like a fish out of water was the miniature representation in that collection and here they are:

Artist/Art work (from bottom to upper right)

  1. Lori Nix  (American, born 1969) Natural History, 2005
  2. Jim Budman  (Canadian) Goo Goo, 1999
  3. Martabel Wasserman  (American, born 1987) Tea Time with Daisy, 2003
  4. Sage Sohier  (American, born 1954) Sculptor with Model of Chuck Close in His Summer Studio, Norwalk, CT, 2005
  5. Lori Nix  (American, born 1969) Circleville, 1999
  6. Lori Nix  (American, born 1969) Natural History, 2005
  7. Vandana Jain  (American, born 1975) Untitled, 1998
  8. Sally Davies  (Canadian, born 1956) Bryant Gumbel Show, 2000

Jules Charbneau…still largest collector of tiny things


I have access to the full bound print collection of Hobbies; the magazine for collectors (published from 1931-1985) in my library, so expect to find all sorts of ads, articles and images from miniatures’ glorious past. I ran across this article about Jules Charbneau (1883-1968) who has always fascinated me. He amassed the largest known miniature collection but also had a large collection of miniature miniatures and before he died, he had over 30,000 miniatures miniatures.

Born in San Francisco, CA, Mr. Charbneau started collecting at the age of 8 and had a successful career as an art dealer, appraiser and designer. The collection was packed into two huge wooden chests and he toured widely with his wife giving talks and lectures on his unique collection. He enjoyed a career as an appraiser applying the wealth ever of information he’d gained in collecting miniatures and becoming knowledgeable on all antiques had made him an expert in appraisals.

He is also noteworthy having designed the gold World’s Fair souvenir coins starting with his design of the Alaska Gold souvenir medals for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. The coins became known as the Charbneau dollar and there are 13 varieties.

Some collection highlights:
1) Portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the head of a pin
2) Two miniature fishhooks, a gift from King Haakon of Norway
3) A bejeweled miniature casket, a gift from Queen Mary of England
4) The world’s smallest French pipe organ
5) Miniature Crown Staffordshire bone china

References

A Story about Little Things
Hobbies: the magazine for collectors.
July 1934

Jules Charbneau’s world of miniatures
1968

Tiny Collection
By Helen Cooke and Russell Maloney
The New Yorker, July 24, 1937

Discover the World of Charbneau So-Called Dollars
by Jeff Shevlin and William D. Hyder
2011

Small Scale Big World: The Culture of Mini Crafts
Gingko Press
March 2020

@gingkopress

This book is a must-have for any artist/craftperson craving the global explosion of the miniature imagination!

The dozens of artists and craftspeople featured in this volume create miniature representations of real-world scenes–everything from housewares, such as a thumb-sized rice cooker, to storefronts and cliffside dwellings suspended in test tubes, all the way up to entire multi-story buildings, with every detail preserved inside and out. Each of these exquisite works tells an intriguing story, encapsulating history, culture and memory, and elevating everyday items–the signage on the side of a garbage can, a rusted downspout–to objects worthy of artistic representation, prompting us through this striking shift of scale to perceive the world in whole new ways. Among the featured artists, Tatsuya Tanaka brings Japanese iconography into his master work “Miniature Calendar,” while Joshua Smith, from Australia, keeps streets and addresses and memory alive by re-creating them in miniature, freezing them in time, complete with weeds and water stains. This book not only digs into the stories behind the works, but provides guidance for those who are ready to try their own hand at mini crafts. Three masters share their inspirations and techniques by revealing a detailed process of a single masterpiece.

With a striking shift of scale, the tiniest crafts can capture the grandest stories. Through their immaculate attention to detail and lifelike miniature representations of the real world, the artists of Small Scale, Big World challenge our consumerist mentality of “bigger is always better.” From everyday housewares like a thumb-sized rice cooker, to entire multi-story buildings and cliffside landscapes, these exquisite miniature recreations inspire us to perceive our surroundings in brand new ways.
Discover the fascinating art of miniatures with original projects and artist exclusive articles, and transport yourself into realms where magnificence lies within the minutiae.
(From Publisher)

Shrunk Magazine
issue #2
@shrunkmagazine

I love, love this magazine: the content AND the design and layout of the print edition; it’s a beautiful and stylish magazine that accomplishes its goal–a modern miniatures magazine! I didn’t learn about until the first issue had long last and sold out!

Here’s Shrunk Magazine‘s mission and why its already a success: Shrunk magazine is a celebration of the mini magic of doll’s houses, miniatures, dioramas and model making. Bridging the gap between traditional doll’s house collecting, contemporary craft and multimedia art, Shrunk is here to serve a new generation of collectors and makers. “

Through a combination of accessible projects and inspiring editorial features, Shrunk strives to be a culturally relevant and inclusive hobby title. The content draws inspiration from the world of interiors and craft, whilst viewing design trends, lifestyle and culture through a miniature lens.
 
The editor, Kat Picot, has a background that puts her right in the center of the knowledge and passion that ensures a huge following for a modern magazine dedicated to miniatures. She has a BA in History of Design, Culture & Society and a Masters degree in Arts & Lifestyle Journalism with the London College of Communication, and began her career in hobby and craft publishing. Also, she runs the online miniatures store, Four Little Walls.

Shrunk Magazine is the most impactful media touch point, in my opinion, to hit the miniatures community in years!

Life in Miniature: a history of dolls’ houses
by Nicola Lisle
Pen & Sword Books

Popular in Britain since the late seventeenth century, dolls’ houses are tiny slices of social history that give us a fascinating glimpse into domestic life over the last 300 years.

In this beautifully-illustrated book, Nicola Lisle explores the origins and history of dolls’ houses and their furnishings, from the earliest known dolls’ house in sixteenth century Bavaria to the present, and looks at how they reflect the architecture, fashions, social attitudes, innovations and craftsmanship of their day. She discusses the changing role of dolls’ houses and highlights significant events and people to give historical context. She also takes a look at some of the leading dolls’ house manufacturers, such as Silber & Fleming and Lines Brothers Ltd (later Triang).

The book includes numerous examples of interesting dolls’ houses, the stories behind them and where to see them. This includes famous models such as Queen Mary’s spectacular 1920s dolls’ house at Windsor Castle and the eighteenth-century baby house at Kew Palace.

There is also a chapter on model towns and villages, which became popular in the twentieth century and also give us a window on the past by replicating real places or capturing scenes typical of a bygone era, as well as advice for dolls’ house collectors, a detailed directory of places to visit and recommended further reading.

One of the most comprehensive guides available on the subject published in recent years, this book offers unique insights into the world of dolls’ houses and is a must for anyone with an interest in the history and appeal of these miniature treasures.


(from publisher’s website)


That Christmas morning in 1973, I ran to a beautiful two-story Marx Dollhouse next to the Christmas tree. I remember organizing all the hard plastic pieces–furniture, family members and pets (one dog and a cat.) I’d peer in each room marveling at the colorful walls filled with images of furniture and fixtures. I loved that dollhouse. There was a terrace on the second floor and even a breezeway. I’d spend hours rearranging the furniture and setting up the family members in different parts of house. I have regretted not saving my Marx Dollhouse from the ravages of rust and a life in the garage.

But that Marx dollhouse was a spark that lit a future lifelong love of miniatures and that “peculiar creativity” that comes with organizing an imagined little world of interiors, houses and things. I have loved dollhouses and miniatures ever since. Wherever I’ve lived (and that’s been a lot of places!) I have gravitated to miniatures and dollhouses in that city, and always had some part of them in my world; I’ve sought out miniature shows, miniature retail stores, bought miniatures when I could afford to do so, and built Greenleaf and RealGoodToys‘ dollhouses in tiny living spaces.

My lasting memory from my young adult years is this photograph of a Glencroft Cozy Tudor I built back in 1989.

I lived in New York City and New Jersey for many years, and I remember the trips to the Dollhouse Factory in Lebanon, New Jersey. This store was a miniature mega-store and had a global reputation that attracted customers (pre-Internet) from all over the world, so folks made the drive to this small town in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

I can’t begin to describe the store: it was a crammed old house that was part retail store, studio and showroom and very much like a Lowes for miniaturists–filled with supplies, lumber, tools, and of course, miniatures and dollhouse kits from all over the world. I have visited tons of miniature/dollhouse stores but the Dollhouse Factory holds a special place in my heart; it was instrumental in how I started understanding the business of the hobby; the art and craftsmanship of the miniatures; collecting miniatures; and embracing a hobby that became a craft and why I can now call myself a miniaturist! The owners, Robert and Judith Dankanics, after 45+ years closed the physical space in 2001 and then closed the online business in 2017 and retired the name, The Dollhouse Factory.

The catalogues were also something special; they were huge and filled with pages and pages of all sorts of products for dollhouses and accessories. I love those catalogues and I have saved a few of the them. Here’s a great New York Times article about Robert and Judith Dankanics when they were just getting started, Small Dollhouse Now a Big Thing, August 24, 1975 . The greatest gift from this business–the quality of service, products and support was helped me embrace miniatures as works of art and an art form, and the realization that dollhouses are hardly child’s play..

Dollhouse Factory catalogue, 1997
The Dollhouse Factory, Lebanon, NJ

Most of all, this journey whet my appetite to research and study the social history of dollhouses and miniatures. I am a librarian so that came easy. I also became interested in the design and architecture of American homes as well as architecture. My brother began investing in real estate and became interested in housing styles and local housing architecture, so I bought him a copy of Virginia Savage McAlester‘s seminal book, A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture .

The book, first published in 1984 (and later revised and published under only Virginia’s name in 2013), is a nearly 900-page primer that chronologically and stylistically tracks almost every major architectural style represented in the domestic spaces of this country. This book has been my guidepost to house design and inspired the types of miniature houses design that I love and hope to one day create. I proudly have a tattered 1984 copy on my shelf as well as the 2015 revision; that education shifted my interest to modernist architectural movements such as Bauhaus and its influence in art, architecture and interior design.

I have been blessed to have traveled extensively and no trip is complete without a visit to the local or featured museum and most, believe it or not, include some type of miniatures! But nothing comes close to the special wing in the Rijksmuseum, (Amsterdam, Netherlands) dedicated to the dolls’ houses (note the difference in the European name) of the 17th century and most notably, Petronella Oortman‘s magnificent dolls’ house.

And YES, Queen Mary’s Dolls House is an equally magnificent dolls’ house and a more contemporary masterpiece in comparison and looks like a dolls house. But two distinctions that bring miniaturists back to Oortman’s incredible dolls’ house: 1) her dolls’ house represents the amazing curatorial activity of wealthy women utilizing the finest craftsmen, artists, and leading manufacturers of the day (so not child’s play!) and 2) her dolls house is essentially an exquisite, tortoise shell cabinet standing almost 80 inches in height. Petronella Oortman’s dolls’ house symbolizes both the origin of “dollhouses/dolls’ houses” as art and a collecting and curatorial endeavor. The Petronella Oortman dolls’ house is the grandest representation of miniatures as an art form. Each time I visit the Rijksmuseum, I spend at least an hour in that wing, just staring at the beauty and the wonder of that dolls’ house hoping to discover something that I hadn’t noticed before and enjoying the throngs of museum visitors also gazing in wonder. The Petronella Oortman dolls’ house was featured in the January 2021 issue of DollsHouseandMiniatureScene. But I will save the Oortman dolls’ house for another lengthy post:)

In the last five years, I have been blessed to have space to get serious about growing my collection and building and renovating dollhouses and creating miniatures. In the last two years, I had a studio at the beautiful M Street Art Complex in Fresno where I was in the company of a wonderful group of local visual artists. I finally had a space to display my miniature collection, build and renovate dollhouses, and enjoy meeting folks during the city’s ArtHop. I was thrust into the spotlight and had to talk about my collection, my work and process and what inspired me, and answer all sorts of questions as visitors marveled at the dollhouses and miniatures.

That’s what artists do, and I am now blessed to own a home so I have dedicated one of the rooms as my home studio for my miniatures and dollhouses. I can now create at all hours so on to the podcast, mini.Futures! That Marx Dollhouse was both an awakening and the best “toy” that I’d ever own.


REFERENCES

Mr. and Mrs. Dollhouse Decide to Close Shop: business started in basement, went global
New Jersey Hills Media Group
October 31, 2001

Hidden Women of History: Petronella Oortman and her giant dolls’ house
The Conversation: academic rigor, journalistic flair
by Susan Broomhall, Professor of History, University of Western Australia
January 2, 2019

Virginia McAlester is the Most Popular Architecture Writer in America
curbed.com
By Alexandra Lange Jun 6, 2019