Building upon the early 20th century trend of "period rooms" in museums, miniature rooms came to represent a more cost- (and space-) effective learning tool. Some of the most famous examples of period rooms are housed in the Art Institute of Chicago in the Thorne Collection of Miniature Rooms.
Narcissa (Niblack) Thorne (1882-1966) was a Chicago artist and prominent socialite. From 1932-1940 in her Chicago studio, Thorne created approximately 100 painstaking miniature rooms. Her usual scale was 1 foot = 1 inch (a ratio of 12:1). Her painstakingly crafted rooms gained such a following, that Edward VIII commissioned a model of Windsor Castle's library in celebration of his coronation.
Much like full-scale period rooms in museums, Thorne created representational architectural models of moments in history based on paintings, blueprints, and other primary sources.
For example, the above room is a composite of Parham Park, Sussex (1577), Wadham College, Oxford (1610), Knole Castle, Kent (1456 onwards) and other Tudor halls. Though their forms are accurate to the reign of Henry VIII, the suits of armor flanking the fireplace would not have been displayed in this manner. However, this miniature room, though tiny, conveys the grandeur of Tudor great halls to Americans visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.
Miniature Tile Fireplaces
At least two of Thorne's rooms include tiny delft tile fireplaces. Thorne's "Massachusetts Dining Room, 1720," was inspired by the Turner-Ingersall House, built in 1668 in Salem, Massachusetts. The house also served as inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic The House of Seven Gables. The tiny, 0.5 square inch tiles that line the fireplace appear to be modeled after early blue and white Dutch delft tiles. Reportedly, the ceramics in this room are miniature porcelain replicas made in China. However, it is unclear whether the tiles are ceramic or made from painted plaster.
Similarly, Thorne's Colonial Bedroom, 1740-1750 includes a fireplace with tiny blue and white imitation delft tiles (below). This room along with 15 other Thorne miniature rooms forms part of the Phoenix Art Gallery's collection.
Kupjack and Winterthur
Artist Eugene Kupjack worked for Thorne for three years in her studio before venturing out on his own. Because of his prodigious skill, he was called upon to artificially age miniature objects to make them appear more true-to-life.
Kupjack and his sons Henry and Jay create each piece in their miniature rooms using inventive materials. Glass and cut crystal are made from lucite turned on a lathe. Porcelain is made from thin wood, turned on a lathe to translucency. The wood is painted first with an oil-based paint, hand-decorated in watercolors, and sprayed with a gloss medium.
In the 1980s, Winterthur Museum commissioned four miniature models of iconic rooms in the house, including:
The glorious staircase in Montmorenci Stair Hall was copied from a free-hanging spiral staircase in Montmorenci, an 1822 North Carolina mansion.
Blackwell Parlor (c. 1764) includes the woodwork from Blackwell House, Pine Street, Philadelphia and examples of Philadelphia Chippendale furniture.
The Cecil Bedroom showcases paneling from a Cecil County, Maryland house from about 1730.
Finally, the Queen Anne Dining Room includes a tile fireplace! It includes paneling from a house in East Derry, New Hampshire, built in the 1750s. Kupjack even recreated the powdered manganese tiles in painstaking detail--complete with plaster mounting material!
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For more information see:
Winterthur Postgraduate Fellow in Objects Conservation