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trendy tiny house movement, in which people downsize into compact
dwellings of a few hundred square feet, has nothing on University of
Delaware students Amanda Kasman and Karissa Muratore.
The two undergraduate art conservation majors
have spent the summer cleaning, repairing, inventorying and
reinstalling the contents of a 6-foot-by-3-foot, 18-room dollhouse at Winterthur Museum near Wilmington, Delaware.
And these are not run-of-the-mill dollhouse furnishings. Muratore and
Kasman have come up with a list of 792 items many of them
collections, as in the custom-made set of silver napkin rings,
containing numerous individual pieces obtained over three decades by
the late Nancy McDaniel, owner of the dollhouse.
Mrs. McDaniel, of New Canaan, Connecticut, donated her prized
possession to the museum upon her death in 2015. She had visited
Winterthur and wanted to choose a recipient that would both care for and
display the dollhouse and its intricate contents.
People often gasp when they see this for the first time, Kasman
said of the three-story house with its fine-grained leather chairs and
working light fixtures, a wooden kitchen table with tiny drawers that
open to reveal even tinier cooking utensils, signed original watercolors
in postage-stamp-size frames on the walls and a game room stocked with a
miniature domino set and Parcheesi board.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
UD art conservation students have spent the summer working on an incredibly detailed dollhouse at Winterthur.
Its a very eclectic collection of objects, Muratore said. She
made some and purchased some, she had some made for her, and she was
given a lot as gifts. One of her friends said that she liked to imagine a
family living in the house, and she wanted them to have everything they
Mrs. McDaniel became enamored of dollhouses on a trip to London with
her husband and grown children, when she saw Queen Marys dollhouse on
display. She sought out a specialist to build a miniature mansion for
her, and in 1985 an English dollhouse maker completed the project.
After receiving the dollhouse, Mrs. McDaniel had a slate roof and
electricity installed, wallpapered the rooms in various patterns that
are all to the correct scale, laid down wood flooring and made 17
needlepoint rugs. She added the furnishings, including special
decorations for Christmas and other holidays, gradually over the next 30
Were told that she loved showing it to people, that she invited
people in to see it in her home as often as she could, Muratore said.
The whole point of donating it was so that people could enjoy it. She
wanted it to be shared.
Winterthur, whose formal collections are limited to the 1640-1860
time period, was nevertheless happy to receive the dollhouse as part of
its complementary demonstration collection, said Deborah Harper, the
museums education curator, who supervised the students work.
Amanda Kasman and Karissa Muratore are undergraduate Art
Conservation students working a summer internship at Winterthur Museum
and Gardens on the conservation, documentation, and reassembly of a
remarkable dollhouse which was recently bequeathed to the museum.
Winterthur has a wonderful collection of miniature objects made in
the 18th and 19th centuries that H.F. du Pont acquired and displayed
while he lived here, and we feel that this delightful dollhouse is a
great complement to that collection, she said. The fact that the
dollhouse rooms are so beautifully designed and meticulously arranged
also corresponds to H.F. du Pont's treatment of his interiors; clearly,
du Pont and Nancy McDaniel shared a keen eye for detail and design.
Kasman and Muratore, who worked on the house through UDs
undergraduate research program, carefully repaired cracked floors,
cleaned walls and windows and removed wax that had been used to hold
items in place. They dusted the books on the librarys shelves,
reattached fabric coming loose from a canopy bed and fixed the broken
hinge on a tiny violin case.
Professionals from Winterthur had traveled to Connecticut and boxed
up the items from each room before moving the dollhouse and its contents
Opening each of the boxes was like Christmas for us, Kasman said.
And then opening a drawer in a piece of furniture and finding more
objects inside was really a magical kind of experience.
The variety of objects made it an especially valuable learning
experience as well, both students said, even if those objects were
This has allowed us to do all kinds of treatments and not be locked
into one area of specialty right now, Muratore said. Weve worked with
wood, paper, metal Theyre not complicated treatments, but I really
appreciate the range.
Vicki Cassman, associate professor in the Department of Art Conservation
and the students UD mentor for the project, called the dollhouse a
great example of a perfect summer experience for our art conservation
They must apply their preventive conservation and treatment
knowledge and negotiate how to treat the antiques and modern materials
in the house, she said. Each room, and each artifact, provides a new
challenge for them.
Kasman and Muratore worked in a room that was open to visitors during
regular Winterthur hours, so they frequently explained the project to
interested passers-by. Harper called them gracious and accommodating
ambassadors for the museum and the dollhouse.
They have so far exceeded my expectations for all they accomplished
not merely cleaning and reinstalling the house, but the meticulous
research into the makers of the objects, and the thorough condition
reporting and treatment of the objects, and the ingenious methods
they have devised to keep the objects secure while on display it is
all fabulous, she said.
The dollhouse will debut to the public in mid-November in
Winterthurs Galleries Stair Hall. Harper said the museum expects to
display it every year during the Yuletide at Winterthur period and
will likely find other special uses for it at future occasions.
Article by Ann Manser
Photos by Evan Krape
Video by Ashley Barnas