Imagination takes form in ‘America’s Doll House’

Faith Bradford (1880-1970) spent a great deal of her life creating and collecting miniatures. After her retirement from the Library of Congress in 1949, Bradford contacted the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum to offer them her exhibit, as she never married and had no heir to leave her treasure. The only contingency for the gift was that a new house be built to properly display the collection.

americas_doll_house.jpgA professional model builder was employed to undertake the venture, and upon completion, Faith Bradford’s contribution to the Smithsonian opened in April 1951. Margaret Brown of the museum’s curatorial staff overlooked the exhibit, and visitors could see the early 20th century world that Bradford created for Mr. and Mrs. Peter Doll, their 10 children, two visiting grandparents, 20 pets, and a household staff of five, all of whom have names. The Dolls’ House exhibit consists of 1,354 miniatures in a 23-room, five-story home constructed at a 1-inch to 1-foot scale.

If you do go to see the exhibit, depending on the crowd, you may not be able to get close enough to really see the miniatures collection. This guide provides you with the interesting back-story and clear view of the exhibit. The room-by-room section is intriguing; it has full-page, clear photographs of the tiny room dioramas where no detail or placement is haphazard. Everything is displayed “just so.”

The book is organized into three sections: an illustrated history with detailed end notes; a room-by-room tour with appropriate photography credits; and a scrapbook section that details fabric swatches of house furnishings Bradford kept while creating the Modern House, a mid-century display house, which was completed in 1959. The stories of the Dolls’ House exhibit and the Modern House give a glimpse into the inner-workings of the National Museum – an added bonus for the curious.

Author William L. Bird Jr. is a historian and curator at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. He has also authored the books (all from Princeton Architectural Press) “Holidays on Display, “Paint By Number,” and co-authored “Design for Victory” with Harry Rubenstein.

“America’s Doll House, The Miniature World of Faith Bradford” by William L. Bird Jr. Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. Paperback, 7 1/2 by 9 inches; ISBN 978-1-56898-974-7; $24.95.; 212-995-9620.

— Karen Knapstein

Sherry Minton writes a regular doll column for Antique Trader. Many of her columns can be read  on the Antique Trader website. These are a few of her columns:

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