It’s a Small World

Mrs ThorneMrs. Thorne was a downsizer. That is not to say that she took to the 1920s and 1930s the way much of America did, the way normal-thinking people of the employable class tighten their belts and make do and mend. She was not employable; she had no education. She did not need one. “Knowing how to put my hat on straight was supposed to be enough,” she recalled.

Hers was a world of entrance halls and drawing rooms, sitting rooms, ballrooms, and anterooms. Parlours. Libraries. Boudoirs. Rooms almost for the sake of the things to put in them. It all had to change, of course. It all had to end. Even the rich would have to downsize. It’s just that Mrs. Thorne took that more literally than most.

A Massachusetts drawing room, circa 1768. This room measures about 12 x 26 x 21 inches.

A Massachusetts drawing room, circa 1768. Look closely. This room measures about 12 x 26 x 21 inches.

Her downsizing was perhaps an act of nostalgia, or of curiosity, or of public service. She would take to her studio for hours, working simultaneously on dozens of rooms, and by 1932 she had completed thirty. These were put on display at the Chicago Historical Society and then at the city’s Century of Progress Exposition. They attracted hundreds of thousands of people.

Miniature room on displayThe story goes on. There was a second set of rooms shown at two World’s Fairs. Most reconstruct interiors of the eighteenth century. A handful, the nineteenth and sixteenth. Two, the twentieth. They are now housed (ha!) at three museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago. See most of the Thorne Rooms beautifully photographed and given academic context in one of the newest additions to our collection.

Miniature Rooms, b y Fannia WeingartnerMiniature Rooms: The Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago (Yale UP), by Fannia Weingartner.

The Thorne Rooms, 68 miniature models of European interiors from the 16th century on and American furnishings from the 17th century on, have entranced generations of visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago. This title showcases these rooms, featuring full-colour views of each one.

Still curious?

Why not visit the Art Institute of Chicago website where you can play the inevitable Game of Thornes. Or, watch a video about creating miniature rooms.

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Filed under American Culture, Books

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