What are miniatures
by Ginger Wyatt

In case you are new to miniatures, or just getting reacquainted, may we at World of Miniatures suggest the following:

1)      Talk to your nearest hobby/miniature/train shop (often your train shop has miniature materials like types of wood.)

2)      Subscribe to miniature publications (see publications on this site)

3)      Go to your local library and browse the 745.5923 books on miniatures (I have often found other “art books”, etc to be useful too.)

4)      Call your local library for the web site of other libraries in your area.

5)      Go to www.google.com for Library of Congress at www.LOC.gov. On the Library of Congress site go to catalogs, then basic search. There are 159,000 books and other materials in the category of Miniatures, Doll House.

6)      Join or start a local club (see this web site for clubs).

7)      Participate in chat rooms (begin at www.groups.Yahoo.com) you may have to belong to have access, or go to www.smallstuff-digest.com

8)      Visit shows in your area (see shows this web site).

9)      Have a book exchange or sign out sheet for materials in your local hobby shop/miniature shop. Explain to the hobby shop how many different ways we can use their supplies…. take a sample of your miniatures when you go.

10)  Ask your local hobby/miniature show for workshops-another excellent way for the hobby shop to make sales.

In the 70’s and 80’s there were many how-to- books, as well as miniature information printed-- National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts (N.A.M.E.) Gazette, Nutshell News, now Dollhouse Miniatures, Showcase, (Kalmbach Publication), and Miniature Collector have given ideas in their publications. We would like for you to send us your favorite how-to book title and its ISBN so we can share them on this site.

You will find information and photos of the Thorne Rooms at www.phxart.org/collection/Thorne_mini.asp at the Phoenix Arizona Museum. I looked up the Thorne Rooms on the Chicago Art Institute and they did not list the Thorne Rooms in their entry entitled “collections”. There are also several Thorne Rooms at the Knoxville, Tennessee Museum of Art.

I am pursuing Queen Mary's Doll House, www.victorianstation.com/dollent.html for more information and possibly a book title. I understand there is a video at www.amazon.com be sure the one you get plays in America- I think the British have a different format than ours.

In researching for this article for www.worldofminiatures.org  I was reminded that there are many “items” considered by others to be “miniatures”—Netsuke, Music Miniatures, Old Testament illustrations as well as other illustrations, military miniatures, miniatures carved in ivory, miniature paintings, miniature portraits, mezzotint miniatures, etc. Actually any scale smaller than life-size could be classified as a miniature. In the doll-house-miniature category we most often use 1”=1’, ½”=1’, and ¼ “=1’ scales.

The first miniatures (dated by Carbon 14 and other means) were probably religious figurines, carved first from wood. Later they were carved in ivory, bone, stone, and fired clay figurines. The ancient Egyptians, in King Tut’s time (1300B.C.) as well as other cultures were familiar with a wide variety of materials- with exquisite results. They worked in Gold, Bronze, Glass, Lapis, and other media. Wide ranges of miniature objects were buried with the King to carry him to the next life.

In China “ceramics” –stoneware and porcelain—were coming into their own, especially in the Tang Dynasty (12th Century) and Ming Dynasty (16th Century)

In England and on the “continent”, the major explosion of “ceramic” items occurred in the 1780’s when shipping, new glazes, new colorants, and more precise firing schedules led to the fabulous gifts royalty gave each other, AND the beginning of the Staffordshire figurines- 6” to 12” tall, they were clay for the common man.

Later salesmen’s samples-pieces of art, clay, and furniture—were made smaller than reality so peddlers or salesmen could carry and show more goods. The other notable, but not often thought of miniatures were artwork created about 1”=1’ to help the artist determine, and later sculpt full-sized pieces of stone, bronze, plaster, and clay.

Examples of more modern miniatures and doll houses were the Christmas presents given young ladies, and, at the other end of the spectrum—the Queen Mary’s Doll House, with running water, art and books created by the elite artisans of the period.

In America, in the 1930’s Mrs. James Ward Thorne, Narcissa Niblick Thorne, became well known for her miniature settings depicting life in general. Mrs. Thorne had seen the Queen’s Doll House and other doll’s houses in museums early in her miniature “career”. She and her husband found 6 treasured pieces than had belonged to an Italian nobleman, which were destined to be the nucleus of the idea behind her first room. “In planning the proper setting for these acquisitions, the idea came to me  to build a real room in miniature !”=1’. (Mrs. Thorne recorded interesting information for a catalogue she prepared for the group show at the Golden Gate Exposition.) As she and her husband toured Italy after the War, and later the rest of the Continent, they found peddlers, collectors, and dealers interested in selling her their treasures. In Paris, on the Left Bank, shops were ransacked for more miniatures—all in unbelievably perfect scale.

The Thorne rooms consist of three (3) sets—the American, the European, and the Asian set. Long ago the American and European rooms were donated to the Chicago Art Institute, of Chicago, Illinois, where they are on display. Sixteen (16) of the first set of thirty-one (31) rooms are on display at the Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, and nine (9) of the first collection are at the Knoxville, Tennessee Museum of Art.

Mrs. Thorne participated fully in the creation of the early groups, turning more to gifted craftsmen in the later series. Mrs. Thorne’s kitchens are among her most delightful rooms {five (5) of the first set were kitchens}. She also made miniature examples of rooms in shrines—Mount Vernon the home of George Washington, and the Hermitage, (Orange, Virginia) home of James Madison. Light streaming thru curtains at the windows and doors, and vistas seen thru the windows and doors add to the illusion.

(Author’s Comment—Having seen the rooms of the display in Chicago, I was impressed with her attention to detail at a time with the Miniature World {as we know it- with almost everything available} did not exist)

Since the Thorne rooms, miniatures in general have exploded. (I would recommend Lee and Allie Frank’s book A Reference Guide to Miniature Makers Marks www.alministures.com which has a brief biography of many notable 2000th century artisans.)

As a hobby, miniatures can be almost anything you want, from reality to fantasy, past, present, future, historically accurate (the Oval Office in miniature, the White House in miniature), or a flight of imagination, expensive, or hand-made. It is most of the time a reasonably small sized hobby to enjoy. It is the collector who has # 1 of everything an artisan does, to one of kind beauties, to an Aunt sitting in a nursing home with a bunch of fresh small flowers. It is a hobby everyone can participate in, from indoors to scenic vistas with working fountains, from the exquisite chandelier made of ream gems, to a little girl’s first doll house, complete with Weebles.

Please join us, we are a relatively well-versed, really nice group of people spanning many ages and backgrounds, that make life and art come into being.