National Toy and Miniature Museum—The World at my Feet

What better way to open a child’s imagination than through a dollhouse door or a miniature railroad track! It’s no wonder children are drawn to miniatures of the adult world: houses, barns, cars, buses, fire engines, trains, and dolls. A child can live in her own world, taking charge of her own family or pirate ship. It’s empowerment—and a gateway to fantasy. 

These small figures and settings are places where the child is in control. As Bert, the chimney sweep, says to Mary Poppins, “There’s the whole world at your feet.”

MARY POPPINS, Dick Van Dyke, Karin Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Julie Andrews, 1964

At your fingertips, too. Kids love manipulating figures and objects to their liking. To develop their own scenarios. Create their own heroes.

Thus the whole Fisher Price and Little People enterprise with Thomas the Tank Engine, Disney Princess Castles, carnivals, safaris, and Jurassic Rex. A lot more available now than when my kids were little! 

Then there are Lego kits that become anything from Steamboat Willie to Super Heroes, from castles (Disney and Hogwarts) to Apollo 11 Lunar Landers and Star Wars Starfighters. 

Or turn Legos into anything you want. All four of my kids loved Legos and preferred building their own worlds than following predictable kit instructions. Jeff even took his Lego-building skills to the next level on his robotics team.

In my own childhood, I reveled in hours of joy with dollhouses—a whole neighborhood of them. Nearby, my brothers’ Mattel Hot Wheels whizzed and whooshed both on and off the race track. Dave’s train whistled as it chugged along through towns and tunnels that nearly filled the room. 

My previous guest, Rita Trickel, apparently never lost her fondness for small things, either, and created a community of whimsical fairy houses.

Artist Dale Varner made a lifetime hobby of building scale models of Disneyland buildings. For a while, in my twenties, I collected miniatures and created dioramas of rooms and settings, but career and family eventually pushed that to the wayside.

Miniature of Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” ride, by Dale Varner

So, in May (2019), I considered it a bit of serendipity when I discovered Kansas City’s National Toy and Miniature Museum the week before I was headed to Kansas City.

I heard about the museum from watching a video. In 2015, Jane Albright, president of the International Wizard of Oz Club (IWOC), put together an exhibit of Oz toys there, from multiple private collections. If you’re an Oz fan, see her 43-minute video tour here. More on Jane next time.

This rotating site greets me upon entering.

Some dollhouses are on permanent display, but when I visited, the museum featured the exhibit “A Space of Our Own: Dollhouses of the 20th Century” (April 20, 2019 to January 6, 2020). That was my main draw.

Here’s a brief tour of my favorite things.

Consider the craftsmanship of these amazing pieces. These are all miniatures that could fit perfectly into a dollhouse. Note the intricate details!

Dessert, anyone?
Can you imagine making teeny tiny fans like these?
Tile-covered wall and floor

These little quilts are no bigger than six inches square (approximately).

These porcelain pieces were actually bright blue and white but unfortunately, my camera didn’t catch the brightness.
The Violin Shop
Miniature boat. Shells were typical craft materials in Victorian times.

You know the joke—how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? I still don’t know the answer, but here are two scenes painted on the heads of pins—literally! I had to see them through a microscope. I wish I could have taken a picture through the lens so you could see the detail. This is just one of several that required a microscope for viewing.

Two paintings on pinheads: one of a cityscape with buildings, and the other a portrait. Really!

This is a dollhouse for a dollhouse! 

This dollhouse cabinet is well under a foot tall. Made to go INTO a dollhouse!

See the 8-step process for making a tiny porcelain dish.

The painting process on a porcelain dish.

DOLLHOUSES

If you’re interested in dollhouses, Spruce Crafts gives pointers for selecting a scale to build or collect. Check out this Little Shop blog, too.

This extremely small 9-room dollhouse was, I think, the smallest one there—under eighteen inches tall! The scale is 1:48, meaning one inch to 48 inches. A more common scale is 1:24 or 1:12 (one inch to one foot), though sizes vary depending on the size of the doll living in that particular house. Barbie dolls, being taller, live in a 1:6 scale house.

Boston Beacon Hill House, 1957. Artist Frank L. Matter. A composite of several houses. Scale is 1: 48. House is under eighteen inches tall.
From the nursery rhyme “The Old Woman in a Shoe”—part of the permanent exhibit.
Victorian home
An English cottage
Palace in miniature, about four feet tall.

I took a picture of a very cool old-fashioned firehouse interior, with several miniature fire engines, but it turned out blurry.

TOYS

There’s something disconcerting about finding in a museum toys that I played with as a kid. How can this be? I’m not that old! 

Then I found the Playmobile dollhouse my daughters had in the 1990s. I guess stuff doesn’t have to be that old to be here.

My daughters played with this Playmobile house for hours on end.
Ken, Barbie, Midge, Skipper . . . I had a Skipper doll (top right) with that same swimsuit.
These are the Liddle Kiddles my sister and I played with (left of Gumby). I had the top one: Sleeping Biddle, and a dozen others.
I’m sure my brothers had a bunch of these same Hot Wheels cars.
They had dozens.
This is well before my time but I thought they were adorable!
Marx tin wind-up Merry Makers Band, 1929.
1931 Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck tin handcar and track.

So if you’re ever in Kansas City, check out the National Toy and Miniature Museum for a couple of hours. It’s near downtown, but easy to get to. They have their own parking lot. The dollhouse exhibit is there till January 6, 2020.

Do you have any favorite miniatures that you own, collect, or make?

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

11 thoughts on “National Toy and Miniature Museum—The World at my Feet

  1. What a great place! Like you, I enjoy miniatures. For awhile I dabbled in salt art figurines, and wasn’t bad! (for me) I always wanted to recreate miniature scenes of my favorite childhood books, especially the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and scenes from Narnia. There are others but I can’t think of them right now.
    The craftsmanship in the miniatures you saw is incredible!

    1. So glad you enjoyed the miniatures! What salt figures did you make? Your comments remind me . . . When I was a kid, if I could choose a school project, I chose to make a diorama–whether for social studies or literature. I loved making those little scenes.

  2. Laura, I LOVE how one trek leads you on to another trek—and now you’ve led me onto another trek (been thinking of a KC visit, and I definitely would enjoy this museum)! Ohmygoodness, the wood inlay in the dresser miniature—and the dollhouse for a dollhouse?!! And the pinhead painting?! And on… What amazing fun!

    1. I hope you get to Kansas City soon! The dollhouse exhibit is there till January 6. Plus, it’s such a great city–clean and manageable to navigate. Home to the KC Royals (if you’re a baseball fan!). I recommend the Arabia Steamboat Museum, too.

  3. I love miniatures and made 3 dollhouses for my nieces over the course of time. I also love the railroad shows where miniature trains are put in all kinds of settings. Hats off to the miniature play.

  4. Okay, I want to go on vacation with YOU! You find all these unique places.
    Miniatures are always such incredible things. And those quilts. Wow.

    For my daughter’s high school marketing class, she had to create a store window display in miniature. She chose Barnes and Noble, and it turned out incredible. The teacher planned to take it to the actual brick-and-mortar store to let them display it over Christmas, but she was afraid they would want to keep it. So I get to look at it here at my house. It’s a display of mom and daughter reading together on a couch with all sorts of book characters looking in. Magical! Complete with a lit Christmas tree 🙂

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