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Friday, 21 August 2015

Museum of Childhood- Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House

The Museum of Childhood is a treasure trove of board games, video consoles, teddy bears, dolls, puppets, kits and has-been entertainment toys archived through the ages. From old fashioned Victorian play things to fisher price toys, game boys, Barbies and Mary-thought bears I remember from my 90s childhood. An archive of fun
however disappointingly trapped behind glass and presented in no particular order. You can imagine all the bears get up to a lot of mischief at night, however the place does lack that magical excitement like rummaging through an old charity shop- which is a shame. Although there are hands-on activities it is more look and reminisce for the older generation rather than play and explore.

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House is an exhibition currently running until September 6th.

Doll's houses are wondrous things. My grandpa made one for my mum when she was a child that I and my sister subsequently played with. A Dolls' House is a physical archive of time. This particular dolls' house is furnished with wallpapers and carpet scraps from the renovation of my mum's childhood home in the 50s/60s. It's like those houses that are left in tact when someone has died as if somehow the house is still living and breathing with signs of life: a set dining room table, stocked cupboards of left over food, music laid out on a piano and a wardrobe stocked full of clothes. 

The exhibition lets you peek inside and listen to the family stories and political, social affairs of lives from the 18th Century to modern day by the push of a button that lights up a room where the 'character doll' appears. With the school holidays in full swing it was quite difficult to hear all there was to offer in the recordings due to background noise but was greatly interesting to learn about the dolls' houses and the people living in each time period. 

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Like the cabinet featured in Jessie Burton's novel, The Miniaturist (which I highly reccomend!) The Dolls' house came into fashion in the 17th Century as a status of wealth; miniature representations of the owners real home with complete decor and furnishings often with an idealisation of the owner's dreams and desires. They were to stand and be looked at- very different from the child-friendly toy that the dollshouse has become today. Doll's houses aimed at children were first manufactured as mass-produced sets in the 1930s.

In this exhibition there were hands on life sized rooms: a kitchen, a 60s lounge where children (or grown-up children *ahem*) can play although I felt the exhibition is more suited to adults as the narratives needed attention and focus to appreciate and understand how the people's lives were in comparison to ours in the modern age. Each dolls' house is exquisitely presented, a great collection of miniature pieces in each room of each house creating a hustle and bustle of life despite being cemented in time. Houses of different scale, documenting changes in architecture and design challenge our perception of the ideal dolls' house including a country mansion, a Georgian town house, a suburban villa and high-rise apartment.

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Amongst the elaborate dolls' houses is Dream House. An art installation commissioned especially for this exhibition. Twenty different artists from differing backgrounds have made miniature rooms, many themed around the ideal or fantastical. I particularly liked this part of the exhibition comparing how each artist responded to the design project. You can discover each room HERE. Each miniature world are stacked and displayed as one house. A bear's office, the world's longest tea-party, a stylish boudoir, an Aquarium Bathroom, Into the Tree Playroom and the liberty-printed sitting room are some of the weird and wacky rooms found in this installation. I was particularly drawn to this project as it reflected an Art project I created in my second year of college and made my fingers inch to make a more update one. If I scout out said art project I will add to this blog post! The boxes also reminded me of 1:25 scale model boxes and would be interesting to those working in Scenic Design. 

Dream House Installation
Dolls' houses are miniature worlds of secrets. Who knows what goes on inside! That magic still stays with me now even as a 'passable' adult- (where is Neverland when ya need it!)
Some of the best stories are set in dolls' houses:

Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Two Bad Mice comes alive in Frederick Ashton's ballet The Tales of Beatrix Potter.

Who remembers Old Bear?

Here is The Doll's House Christmans- Old Bear Stories.

The Miniaturist, a novel by Jessie Burton centers around a dollshouse cabinet where the figures inside start to resemble the residents, presaging the real lives of the people living in the main house that the cabinet resides in.

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House is running until September 6th 2015 @ Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, London. It is free entry.