Pondering the purpose of the dollhouse…or the way of the dollhouse…
One thing that I am pondering on journey into the centre of the 1:12 world is the why of the dollhouse. Or should that be the why of the way of the dollshouse?
Apart from their purpose as toys, one thing that interests me is the rationale for dollhouses – why people spend alot of time and alot of money creating works of art which will never be used by a child?
Obviously it is a hobby, a passion and a past-time for many people (those who I have affectionately termed “mad miniaturists”; but I guess I am asking why period dollhouses?
As a segue, let’s consider two famous examples (or dolls houses or doll’s houses) – Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House and the Thorne Minature Rooms.
Although their purpose today is display – providing a sense of wonder and spectacle to all who see them – and in that function they are not dissimilar to the more fantastic famous dollhouses Tara’s Palace and Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle; the initial intention behind them was less about entertainment and more about creating a miniature / living archive of life at the time they were created.
Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House is amazing – if you are in the UK and have the chance to go to Windsor castle it is worth the visit alone. With running hot and cold water, electric lights, a comprenhesive wine cellar filled with real bottles of wine, miniature books and artwork, with many especially written/created for the house by famous artists and authors of the day (Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House: On a scale of one to twelve – official guide, 1992, pp. 14-17); the house was intended as a:
…model of a house of the 20th century which should be fitted up with the perfect fidelity, down to the smallest details, so as to represent as closely and minutely as possible a genuine and complete example of a domestic interior with all the household arrangements characteristic of the daily life of the time.
(ibid, p. 4).
The dollshouse was a national gift from “the people” (presumably of the United Kingdom) to Queen Mary. It was first considered in 1921 and first exhibited in 1924 (ibid, p. 2).
So, rather than being a toy, it primarily functioned as an archive of domestic life for that period…and as a vehicle for fundraising for charitable causes (ibid).
Similarly, the Thorne Miniature Rooms are 68 room boxes which were commissioned by a private citizen with the intention that they would:
…enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s.
(www.artic.edu/aic/collections/thorne, viewed online 31 Dec 2008)
Segue – There are, inarguably, additional meanings we can gain from considering these two projects – one is a physical expression of the role of the nobility in the 1920s and/or how relative commoners considered the private lives of the royal family at that time; while we can consider the other in terms of prevalent interpretations of history/architecture and interior design that were present at the time. They both – by virtue of what is shown and what is not (that which is seen and that which is unseen or assumed) – can provide deeper readings…if we were of a sociological bent or interested in cultural studies.
Luckily for both you and me, it’s currently 39 degrees and the last thing I want to do is think too much…or google the answer which could be better addressed by someone more “qualified”.
Back on track (sort of)…
Given that two prominent examples of doll houses and miniatures were intended as faithful reflections of domestic life for that period; why is it that there are only a miniscule amount of truly modern dollhouses available?
If you look on most dollhouse sellers sites you will see a preponderance of Classic US, Georgian, Edwardian, Tudor and other Period architecture, but a minimal amount of modern architecture with some notable exceptions. If I wanted to – how does a modern girl create a faithful reflection of her domestic life for posterity?
Yes, modern dollhouses are available. Yes, it is entirely possible that someone wanting to make something “modern” may choose to make it from scratch rather than following a plan. No, I haven’t looked at dollhouse plans books to see what else is on the market – I am currently primarily only interested in what I can easily and quickly see. And yes, I could make one from scratch…but that’s not exactly what I am interested in.
But what does interest me is that of those modern dollhouses – see examples one and two – is that they are harder to find, often for the serious collector and often only modern in that they are of a post-Edwardian design. An art deco design can be considered “modern”.
And even though they are “modern”, most are neither toys nor are they faithful reflections of domestic life at the time. How many of us live in modularean eco houses? A truly modern and minimal house a la the Sirch house? Kaliedoscope houses?
Apart from that, no matter what type of house (modern or…?standard?), these dollshouses are predominantly biased towards northern hemisphere architecture of Western heritage. As a resident of the South hemisphere, this is interesting to observe. Yes, we do have a lesser population base but still…it’s interesting none-the-less.
Yes there are “modern” houses that we “could” live in, provided we lived on 1/4 suburban tracts, laurasweet has done alot of work to pull a list together but again why can she find only one apartment building? Aren’t there an awful lot of people living in apartments today?
So, if not as a toy and if not as an archive of today…what are they for? Escapism or a flight of fantasy?If that’s the case, it’s something to consider about our lives that some of us need to escape in this way.
You could argue that it’s no more escapist than reading a book or watching a movie, although it is a lot more active and creative; but I feel there is an inherent irony to this escapism…
That’s enough opinion for now, you’ll have to see my next post for more on this.
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