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Posts Tagged ‘theory’

The write up of the Shopping Sherpa‘s dollhouse exhibition in Canberra got me theorising about dollhouses again:

Across time and place we readily identify with domestic settings; from ancient Roman villas, to the round houses in the PNG highlands. We recognise domestic spaces used for sleeping, eating, washing etc. Like mini house museums, Anna Maria’s dolls’ houses are repositories of material culture of the Western era from 1957 – 2007. (see source)

Except I still wonder if the houses are really repositories of material culture, that we can all possess, or reflections of the material culture we aspire to possess?

From her blog:

I find it constantly surprising how miniaturists in the late 20th and early 21st century seem to have suddenly reverted to creating Victorian country dolls houses. I’m not sure if it is because those pieces are easier to obtain commercially (and here’s where I start asking chicken and egg questions) or if it a “dumbing down” of a hobby (can I be so arrogant as to use the phrase “art form”?) that has been round since the 15th century at least.

If you are interested in some of the famous dolls houses through history you might want to look at Mon Plaisir (1704-1751), the Dutch cabinet houses of the 17th century and, more recently The Thorne Rooms in Chicago and (of course) Queen Mary’s Dolls House at Windsor Castle.

Each of these collections gives us a very clear idea of how people actually lived in the times they were constructed and are a very useful social history tool.

So why oh why aren’t we doing this any more? Are future generations going to have to look to TV to see how people lived in our times? And will that mean they’ll get some completely unrealistic idea (eg: how do the people in Friends actually afford to live in a flat like they have?!)

(see source)

I don’t disagree with any of the points she has made, either in her blog or in her exhibition; but I do wonder whether the repositories of present/modern life are only slightly less idealistic than those which envisage a far off, unrealistically perfect period of Victoriana.

I think that even modern dollhouses might be aspirational repositories – what we want to possess, where we would like to live – of modern life; rather than reflective repositories – where we actually live, what we can actually afford to own…rather than being a reflection of  material culture, they are, perhaps, a reflection of materialistic culture.

Without spending alot of time digging out stats and figures and correlating percentages of ownership of key items against the dates they appeared in dollhouses, this is only speculation.

But in the interest of randomly collating facts found on the internerds and coming to a (possibly flawed conclusion) consider the Shopping Sherpa’s late 50’s dollhouse which was initially dated as being produced in 1947 and features a television. There is an interesting site about TV History which included alot of US figures about tv ownership, and prior to 1955, less than 50% of the USA owned a TV (see source).

Admittedly this is a US specific site, it would be more interesting if the stats were from the same region as the dollhouse – Lundby started in Sweden. And it would be more interesting if there were more than one “key items” which could be correlated against statistics for uptake and ownership….but it was quite a cool thought while it lasted.

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Escape from New York?

It’s too hot to sand, I need to buy balsa wood and fix some windows before I progress further and I have hit a roadblock in my layout planning. Plus I am recovering from the bounties of bombay basil and cosmopolitans I partook in last night.

Fortunately it is not too hot to think. Well not too hot as long as the fan is on and I am drip feeding myself cola. So I am back to pondering the way of the dollhouse.

Given most of the items I am seeing on sites are for collectors and/or are not suitable for children; for now, let’s leave aside the dollhouse as toy.

As mentioned previously, if you trawl through ebay and dollhouse sellers’ sites, you will see a preponderance of Classic US, Georgian, Edwardian, Tudor and other Period architecture, structural components, furniture and etc.

So there appears to be a predominant wish to create reflections (or rather interpretations) of previous periods of domestic life.

Interpretations of previous periods is more correct given these reflections are filtered through our own experiences of (current) domestic life and are themselves pasteurised and prettified. How many accessories and plans are there for Victorian tenements and slums?

So this action of creating an interpretation of a previous period is an action of creating an ideal (or idyll) of domestic life in stately and upperclass homes in the Edwardian,  Georgian and etc periods.

It’s an escapist fantasy of a house populated with rooms and concepts which don’t exist in real life – not in this current time, nor probably even in that far off time period we seek to replicate.

And these are no small homes either – they are stately and or upperclass homes. How many of us could afford something similar in terms of size, money or lifestyle in real life? Very few, I imagine.

So, for now, we’ll call this action of creating idyllic reflections of domestic life “escapism”, for now. It’s kind of a blunt terms and it’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, okay?

As they say, whatever floats your boat.

However, what really interests me is if this act of creation and interpretation is the creation of an idyllic domestic reality and an act of escapism from humdrum/difficult/whatever you want to call it reality…why on earth are there minature washing machines, ironing boards, cleaning products darning boxes and vacuum cleaners?

12 size stain, we'll fix it!

Have a 1:12 size stain, we'll fix it!

Seriously – if I want to escape from reality, I don’t want to take the fact that there’s ironing and washing to be done with me.

Don't you have chores to be doing?

Don't you have chores to be doing?

That’s…not escapism.

12 world?

What day is bin day in 1:12 world?

Who wants to be reminded there is vacuuming to be done and bins to be put out in their idyllic world?

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I should explain, for posterity, that I am not gifted in the DIY sense.

I am missing that small, but essential gene, that enables people to know how to position a wrench when undoing a pipe, saw something in a straight line and hammer a nail without bending it or dropping it or denting the wall right next to it.

I couldn’t draw a straight line even if you gave me a ruler with clamps and a marker than only draws straight lines. I couldn’t work out how many pieces of MDF needed to jigsaw three identical floors – even when I have the measurements for the floors and for the size of the MDF and a measuring tape.

I have already confessed my early wallpapering efforts with you. Let it be said that the coverlets and curtains I sewed for my dollhouse were also incredible “special”. That’s ‘special’ with in inverted commas and a peculiar emphasis that only works in conversation – you know the one.

When I decided I would pave a small part of the garden (a real garden in a real 1:1 house) – a nice curving arch around a lemon tree, I was fine while digging out the area to pave, fine when gathering the bricks together, fine when planting the lemon tree. I hit the limits of my ability at the leveling and paving in a regular organised pattern. The first (and only) five rows I paved straggled upwards, downwards, left, right and were all slightly skewiff. I was summarily fired from that task, which also put paid to my optimistic intention to pave a path down the side of the same 1:1 house once my beautiful paved arch was completed.

On one hand, there’s me. On the other, there’s my dad.

My dad is incredibly gifted with the DIY gene – he can understand the enigmatic and mystical workings of cars, reticulation systems,  drilling, roofing, cabinet making, 90 degree angles and so much more. If it needs to be made, fixed, renovated -he’s da man.

It’s amazing. Totally incomprehensible, but amazing.

There’s only been one time he slipped – when he made a queen sized bed base for me that was 30cm too wide and too deep. I’d like to write that this shows he’s only human in the DIY regard…but I was in charge of writing down the measurements and telling him the measurements when we bought the timber. So it was likely not him who slipped but my recessive gene proving too strong for his DIY mojo.

We could debate whether it’s a case of nature or nurture. I won’t disagree that facets of DIY are learnt but I have been assisting my Dad and watching him since I was old enough to pick up a hammer. No amount of diagrams, explanations, demonstrations and assistance have made any difference.

I have always been aware of my “specialness” in regard to DIY, yesterday I discovered actual proof that this missing gene I am inflicted with, may be a recessive gene.

I should have been alerted when my uncle told my about my granpa’s attempt at crazy paving (what is it with us missing DIY gene sufferers and paving?) – it was…crazier than your ordinary crazy paving.

Much like my attempt only he used irregularly shaped stones thereby upping the ante on the paving scale and providing one more critical vector where things could go horribly wrong.

It’s hard enough paving with regular, uniform brick shapes, upping the ante with irregularly shaped  rocks is a bit like using a backhoe to dig a hole for your pot of petunias.

Anyhoo, as I have been stripping and cleaning this dollshouse I have noticed the following things – one of which has escaped my notice for 27 years and is actually blindingly obvious, so I should have noticed it at some point.

Firstly, as I took out the floors and took the roof off,  measured the distances between floors so that when I come to put in my new, amazing, non-buckled floors I know where they need to go. Kind of important as that will determine where my new stairs (or new non-imaginary lift) will need to stop…and start…and stop and… You get the idea.

Did I mention that there are three floors? (including the ground floor one) And that I will be putting in a fourth floor (as part of my magnificent, space-giving attic conversion (attic conversion sounds so…posh, doesn’t it?)?

It turns out my first (ground) floor is about 24 cm high, while my second (first) floor is 22cm high and my third (second) floor is 18cm high.

Not a problem until you consider how many steps you will need to get from one level to another, if you use stairs.

Not a problem until you decide to use standard, premade dollhouse stairs which, altho there are different lengths) are all uniform. Making my own stairs would have just given me sooooo many more points where I could mess this up and I figured I would have a hard enough time working out where to cut the holes in the floors for the stairs without increasing the difficulty scale.

Not a problem unless you have precut dollhouse windows meaning you can’t mess around too much with the relative heights of floors.

Speaking of windows, that leads me to my second example (this is the one I possibly should have noticed over the last 27 years).

Can you see what’s wrong with this picture?

What is wrong with this?

What is wrong with this?

Hint…look at the windows.

Seen it yet?

Look at that top row of windows – small, small and then…big.

Now look at the middle row of windows – same level, same level and then…one inch or so lower.

Now look at the bottom row of windows – big, doorway and then…small.

You see where I am going with this now?

Yes – it looks like the door of the dollhouse on the right has actually been put on upside down.

If it was the other way around we’d have three small windows in the top row, three big windows (all on the same level) in the middle row and a big window to match the other big window on the other side of the door. It would even be at the same level as the other window.

Call me crazy, but…do you think my granpa has possibly put that right hand door on upside down?

Now I don’t claim to call myself a geneticist (or a handy-woman for that matter), and my granpa was my maternal grandfather and my Dad therefore doesn’t come from the same genetic strain; however the DIY and the anti–DIY genes meet in me…

Hmmmm… that’s something to ponder.

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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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