Tiny Rooms, Elegant and Bloody

Nice piece in the NYTimes about a show at the Renwick called
Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. 

These are dollhouse dioramas, all of grisly crime scenes (how is John Waters not involved in this?), created by Glessner, a self-trained artist and forensic scientist in the middle of the last century, They were, and in some cases still are, used to train detectives.

Times writer William Hamilton, or his editor, had the inspired idea of touring the show with Jennifer Smith, the head of Forensics for the Washington, DC police, picking up on things that civilians would miss in the very detailed, yet decorative little rooms.

In my two visits (both relatively quick) it seemed to sit a little oddly at the Renwick (although the newly reopened museum’s pushing of boundaries of craft seems to me overall positive–the first show in 2016 was fantastic).  The Nutshells’ oscillation between dark humor, sort of a particularly bleak 1950s noir, clashes with the dollhouse presentation, at least for me. Still, the show is undeniably fascinating, and certainly has engaged an audience.  After the Times piece, I bet there will be audiences waiting on Penn. Avenue to see it.

Glessner was a Chicago native, and I wonder whether the wonderful Thorne Rooms–decorative miniatures at the Art Institute of Chicago, were an inspiration? These are done to the same scale as Glessner’s, 1 inch = 1 foot, but portray mostly elegant interior design , Americanrooms from the colonial period through the 1940s. No corpse in sight. My early years were spent in Chicago, and a visit to these was always a particular treat.

Photos don’t really do them justice (in reproduction, they look like the actual rooms you find in historical sites or recreated in museums, but when you consider the 1″ scale, the detail of the workmanship becomes clear:

Virginia Drawing Room, 1754, c. 1940, One of the Thorne Rooms from the Art Institute of Chicago



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