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Photograph of hand holding tweezers and picking up a tiny blue chair in order to place into the tiny dollhouse that was made for the Thorne Miniature Rooms

A Grand Tribute of Miniature Proportions



Communications staff
December 26, 2019

Lindsay Mican Morgan, who cares for the Thorne Miniature Rooms, discovered a photo album labelled “Doll’s Houses” in the museum’s archives.

It revealed one of the many philanthropic pursuits undertaken during the holiday season by the creator of the Thorne Miniature Rooms, Mrs. James Ward Thorne. The photographs inside recorded the elaborate dollhouses she created as gifts to local hospitals, including Children’s Memorial Hospital (now Lurie Children’s Hospital).

Old lack and white photo of children's ward in a hospital showing two children beside a large dollhouse

Children in the hospital play with some of Mrs. Thorne’s remarkable dollhouses.

Two Dollhouses, a large one and one small enough to be played with in a lap, designed by Mrs. Thorne.

Some dollhouses were large enough for several children to play with. Others, like the small one on the right, were meant for the lap of a bedridden child.

Inspired by these charitable acts, Lindsay decided to commission a tribute to Mrs. Thorne, something that could be displayed over the holiday season. She conceived the idea of a miniature dollhouse that could join other miniature decorations that are installed each year in other Thorne Rooms. These include the dreidel resting on a coffee table in the California Hallway, about 1940 and the fine garland woven through matchstick-sized banister rails in the staircase of the Virginia Entrance Hall, 1751–55—each painstakingly placed with tweezers.

The first step was to contact Nell Corkin, a mini-mini expert (that’s 144 scale!) for advice and guidance at her studio in Michigan. So Lindsay hopped in her car and off she went.

Mini-mini craftspersonin her shop with a small table saw

LEFT: Mini-mini expert Neil Corkin in her studio. RIGHT: A miniature table saw.

Mini-mini expert drawing the parts needed for miniature dollhouse

The first step: create a paper model.

Wall Side By Side

Once the dimensions are finalized, cutting begins.

Dollhouse in process

Progress is being made.

Side by side photographs, once showing tiny painted furniture for the dollhouse and a photo of the painting of the dollhouse in progress

LEFT: Testing out paint colors on sculpted furniture. RIGHT: First level assembled after painting, with faux marbelized stairs and fireplace in place.

Once the walls and roof are finished and everything is painted and in place, the dollhouse is packed up and driven to the Art Institute, though in a car of regular proportions.

Photo of miniature dollhouse inside a Thorne Miniature Room with tiny pieces of furniture and a little doll

Presto! The finished dollhouse and dolls ready for action on the carpeted floor of the “Middletown” Parlor, 1875–90.

Mrs. Thorne’s dollhouses provided delight for children who were confined to hospital during the holidays. This miniature dollhouse, representing Mrs. Thorne’s compassion and generosity, will join our yearly celebration of the season of giving in the Thorne Rooms.

A photograph of Mrs. James Ward Thorne, creator and patron of the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Mrs. Thorne stands in her studio, wearing a formal dress and pearls with a painting coat covering her clothes. The table in front of her is covered in painting tools, paint, and miniature objects, and a large picture window behind her lets light into the room.

The inimitable Mrs. James Ward Thorne


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