Down­siz­ing

Peep through the win­dows of his­toric man­sions, mod­ernist vil­las and mod­est fam­ily homes to find minia­ture worlds, recre­ated in per­fect, diminu­tive de­tail, writes ROWAN MANTELL

EDP Norfolk - - Exhibition -

TWO TINY girls in blue school uni­form dresses dance be­side an even tinier record player; liv­er­ied staff stand in a Vic­to­rian kitchen, framed by rows of minis­cule pol­ished pots and pans; a woman in a 1930s bathing cos­tume is poised at the top of a div­ing plat­form at a pool party be­side a sleek mod­ernist home.

These mo­ments, frozen in time and picked out in minia­ture in a se­ries of ex­quis­ite houses, are part of Small Sto­ries – an ex­hi­bi­tion of dolls’ houses at Nor­wich Cas­tle.

The diminu­tive des re­ses in­clude 18th cen­tury coun­try man­sions and grand town­houses, rooms set into a Chi­ne­ses­tyle cab­i­net, a 1980s house recre­at­ing 1940s fam­ily life in minia­ture, and 22 new dolls’ house rooms, de­signed by Nor­folk peo­ple.

The 12 his­toric dolls’ houses from the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert’s Mu­seum of Child­hood in Lon­don are on a world tour, along with their 1,900 as­so­ci­ated minia­ture ex­hibits in­clud­ing dolls, fur­ni­ture and fur­nish­ings.

Each house is brought to life by a story told about the dolls in­side. Vis­i­tors can use but­tons to start the sto­ries and il­lu­mi­nate tiny char­ac­ters as they speak. Tales of mar­riage, fam­ily life, pol­i­tics and crime are set in houses rang­ing from a coun­try man­sion to a coun­cil house and a sub­ur­ban villa to a high-rise apart­ment.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, which comes to Nor­wich af­ter vis­it­ing Fin­land and the United States, also fea­tures 22 dolls’ house rooms cre­ated by Nor­folk ar­chi­tects, artists, mak­ers, stu­dents and chil­dren, plus a hands-on play area with dolls’ houses and fur­ni­ture for vis­i­tors to ar­range and re­ar­range.

And nearby Strangers’ Hall Mu­seum, Nor­wich, has a linked pro­gramme, in­clud­ing the Nor­wich Baby House, which is one of the ear­li­est sur­viv­ing dolls’ houses and has been re­cently re­stored and il­lu­mi­nated with LED light­ing to help peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the de­tail of the in­te­ri­ors. Strangers’ Hall, once home to wealthy mer­chants and may­ors, has an ex­ten­sive toy col­lec­tion in­clud­ing more dolls’ houses, dolls and their minia­ture fur­ni­ture and fur­nish­ings, with a spe­cial Small Sto­ries trail through­out the mu­seum.

The ex­hi­bi­tion will be opened on Fri­day, March 3, by Fer­gus Gam­bon, dolls’ house ex­pert, An­tiques Road­show pre­sen­ter, and son of ac­tor Michael Gam­bon. Cathy Terry, se­nior cu­ra­tor of so­cial his­tory for Nor­folk Mu­se­ums Ser­vice, says: “The ex­pe­ri­ence of peeking into the tiny rooms and see­ing all the metic­u­lous de­tail is fas­ci­nat­ing for chil­dren and adults, and hope­fully ev­ery­one will dis­cover some­thing new. We’re also re­ally ex­cited that the ex­hi­bi­tion gives us a chance to show­case Strangers’ Hall’s mar­vel­lous dolls’ house col­lec­tion which is very high qual­ity and one of the city’s trea­sures which de­serves to be bet­ter known.”

Linked events in­clude chances for chil­dren to cre­ate and film an­i­mated mini-ad­ven­tures for a dolls’ house doll, and work­shops for adults to re­pro­duce scaled-down ver­sions of a favourite paint­ing for a dolls’ house, make tra­di­tional tiny straw-work and feather-work fur­ni­ture or craft minia­ture books. Small Sto­ries: At home in a dolls’ house, runs at the Nor­wich Cas­tle Mu­seum and Art Gallery from Satur­day, March 4 to Sun­day, June 25. www.mu­se­ums.nor­folk.gov.uk

Left: Tate Baby House, Eng­land, 1760

Above: 18th cen­tury quill or feather-work fur­ni­ture, with a pair of fash­ion­ably-dressed 18th cen­tury dolls; Strangers’ Hall col­lec­tion

Top: Hop­kin­son House – Chil­dren’s Bed­room (set in 1940s Eng­land) 1980s-1990s

Above: Fully-equipped kitchen of the 18th cen­tury Nor­wich Baby House, Strangers’ Hall col­lec­tion

Left: Kalei­do­scope House, Lau­rie Sim­mons, Peter Wheel­wright and Bozart, USA, 2001

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