The Power of the Very, Very Small

Reading a delightful book by Simon Garfield (of Just My Type fame), In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate the World. As in his other books, he’s droll, magically readable, and a companionable guide to the odd world of the tiny, which, as a Giacometti quote in the beginning points, out is more likely to give you a sense of the universe.

“The creation of small universes in which we may bury ourselves to the exclusion of all else will be at the core of this book.”

Simon Garfield

As a fan of the miniature, I offer three examples (which may or may not have caught his eye, I’m only a third of the way through).

The Thorn Rooms at the Phoenix Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago & other museums. Pictures don’t do these justice, of course, as they look like real rooms in reproduction, but when you are in front of them and their 1:12 model proportions, their domestic interiors come alive. They were created by Narcissa Niblack Thorne (1882-1966).

Then there is MVSEVM, at the National Museum of American Art,

which was commissioned for the renovation of that museum, and both honors and questions the idea of a museum.

Finally, there is Miniature Calendar, the meticulous obsession of artist Tatsuya Tanaka.

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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