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.”
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.
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!
These little quilts are no bigger than six inches square (approximately).
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.
This is a dollhouse for a dollhouse!
See the 8-step process for making a tiny porcelain dish.
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.
I took a picture of a very cool old-fashioned firehouse interior, with several miniature fire engines, but it turned out blurry.
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.
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!