Often the first reaction upon seeing Nancy McDaniel’s dollhouse is a gasp. It is a 6-foot-by-3-foot, slate- roofed, fully electrified dollhouse inspired by Queen Mary’s dollhouse in England, it was left to Winterthur when Nancy McDaniel passed away recently.
We are lucky enough to have a summer internship to conserve, clean, and reassemble the dollhouse to put on display for Winterthur visitors.
With only 10 weeks to accomplish the damage assessment, treatment of the house and objects, reinstallation of all the objects, and research, we knew we needed to create a comprehensive plan.
One of our initial concerns was the potential pest infestation of the many textiles that had been in boxes for nearly a year. We knew that they needed to be retrieved and treated via the CO2 or freeing chambers; however, they were scattered across 15 boxes. While the boxes themselves were well labeled and organized, some individual items within them were not. We knew if we simply started digging in, the organization painstakingly put in place by the art handlers would have been lost, and it would have been easy to lose and/or mix up objects. In an effort to avoid such a catastrophe, we decided that a written and visual inventory would be the best course of action to take first. This allowed us to accomplish four things simultaneously: compile a master list of all the objects and their locations in the dollhouse; evaluate each item closely in order to identify any potential future treatments; set aside the textiles, which threatened to introduce pests into the museum environment, into sealed plastic bins as we came upon them; and gain a familiarity with the objects and rooms that we will be working on for the next nine weeks.
We are happy to report that after two and a half weeks, we have finished both a written and visual inventory of the dollhouse and all the objects and sent a portion of the textiles to be treated. The final document contains an astounding 722 entries, some of which represent multiple objects. Moving forward we plan to treat and clean the house first before focusing on the conservation and installation of the individual rooms. We have been, and will continue to be, working in a space that is viewable to the public on most weekdays from 10:00 am–5:00 pm in the Gallery Theater. Everyone is welcome, and we encourage you to come visit, watch, and ask as many questions as you can think of.
The house will be on display beginning November 19 and, just like Winterthur, it will be decorated for Yuletide this holiday season!
This is the first in a series of posts detailing the process to conserve and reassemble the dollhouse.
Post by Karissa Muratore and Amanda Kasman, University of Delaware Art Conservation undergraduates doing a summer internship at Winterthur Museum