A Doll “Mansion”

Doll House overall front view resized (2)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

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10 Responses to A Doll “Mansion”

  1. Betty says:

    Fascinating! Following with great interest.

  2. Nancy Tallman says:

    Fascinating. When was this built?
    What era does it represent?
    Did Ms McDaniel oversee it’s building and development?

    • Allison Dunckel says:

      The doll house was built in 1985. This was after she spent years searching for the right doll house maker. After finding him, she passionately advocated her vision for the doll house she wanted, asking him to make an 18 room mansion, which is 8 rooms larger than any doll house he had previously made. After he had built the structure of the house, it was shipped to Connecticut where it was fully electrified and the slate roof was added. In the years that followed, Nancy wallpapered, floored, and tiled the rooms herself, in addition to collecting the miniatures to fill them.

      The radiators, and other appliances in the doll house most closely represent 1920s furnishings. The mother and children’s clothing, however, look more Edwardian, which is 1901-1914. There are also some items of vintage furniture that appear to be miniature Chippendales. There is also an Edisonian phonograph. In addition, there is both a vacuum and a carpet sweeper to be found in the kitchen. As a result, we feel that she filled the house with things she liked more than just staying true to a very specific period. She was interior designer during part of her life, so it is likely that she simply enjoyed arranging the little house, as she would a big house.

  3. Pingback: A Sticky Situation in the Doll “Mansion” | Winterthur Museum & Library Blog

    • Allison Dunckel says:

      Sarah, the holiday decorations were things that Mrs. McDaniel has already acquired. We will not be acquiring additional decorations for the dollhouse. It will look spectacular dressed up for the holidays, we promise!

  4. Sarah P. says:

    What an incredible dollhouse! Thank you for sharing not only the backstory, but also the intricate steps being taken to prepare the dollhouse for exhibit. I had the pleasure of reading the other blogs you’ve written about Mrs. McDaniel’s dollhouse, and look forward to future blogs describing more of the work going into the project. When the house is decorated for the holiday season, are the dollhouse seasonal decorations things that Mrs. McDaniel already had for her dollhouse, or is the museum acquiring and adding holiday decorations to help get the dollhouse in the holiday spirit? 🙂

  5. Christine Tyson Harrison says:

    This is so exciting! And we live just down the road, in Baltimore. Can’t wait for the unveiling. Christy

  6. Laurie Sisson says:

    I have been involved with the miniatures community for decades.
    If you need any help finding objects or repairing items, please let me know.
    There will be a large miniatures show at Cherry Hill,N.J. starting Nov.4 you might find interesting. Many international artisans will attend as dealers.
    Laurie Sisson

  7. Susan Batten says:

    Is there a blog about the restoration?

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