The worldwide fascination with dollhouses is due, in part, to an intrigue with building in the miniature. After all, something as grand as a house scaled down to the utmost delicacy — a thing that we can pick up and fondle at our leisure — inspires us. It's a bird's eye reflection of family culture.
At the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., one exhibition stands out to tourists and artists alike: Small Stories, which was originally developed by the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood in London. The exhibition, which features 12 dollhouses, is an artistic display of understanding on evolution in our day-to-day lives, as well as tales that take place within the home. Small Stories is now traveling to numerous venues around the world, and the National Building Museum is the sole U.S. venue.
"For the exhibition, the Victoria and Albert Museum curators selected 12 dollhouses from their vast collection," Brett Rodgers, Vice President for Marketing & Communications at NBM, says. "They show changing architectural and design [and] the changing role of the houses themselves — from very expensive showpieces, to mass-produced toys." According to Rodgers, there are 1,900 objects associated with the show.
"Other than the 12 houses, these are the many dolls and decorative pieces contained in them," Rodgers says. "They were specially conserved by the Victoria and Albert Museum for the exhibitions, packed and shipped and set up painstakingly by the Victoria and Albert Museum team who came to collaborate with us on the adaptation of the show."
The NBM also added on a special project, on display at the end of the galleries and titled the "Dream House." The museum commissioned 24 "Dream Rooms" by artists, architects, and designers who were able to offer a contemporary take on the dollhouse. These rooms are varied and eclectic, and are available for purchase as a fundraiser for NBM's educational programs.
One of the designers invited to build the Dream Rooms to accompany the exhibit? Artist Jill Orlov of Baltimore.
"Each of us was provided a maple cube, and my idea was a 'Mouseum in a Box,'" she says. "Since I was always very fond of [the movie] The Borrowers, I designed mine as a museum within the walls of the museum with details of both the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood in London, where the exhibit originated. " So cute!
Artist Lori Nix of Nix + Gerber Studio in Brooklyn says her piece, called "Apartment 6D," is based on dystopian films and literature.
"'Apartment 6D' depicts a dwelling in a not-so-happy future," she says. "We imagine this world to be challenging in terms of climate and resources. We tried to reflect that with a utilitarian but lightly futuristic design." The art features several built-in elements, including a recumbent bike to power a personal battery bank, a plant wall to maintain higher air quality, and a water reclamation and storage area. "In short, many of the things we think will be of concern in the future," she says.
The Small Stories exhibition opened in May and will remain through most of January, just after the presidential inauguration. Tours of the dollhouses are included in general exhibition admission — visit now, while you still can.
Interested in collectibles? In this video, Martha learns all about dollhouses from Joel Henriques: