For the past few weeks, I have immersed myself in the Museum’s dollhouse collection. Let me just say, it is extensive! Not only do we have a number of wonderful large and small dollhouses, but many of these original gifts came with furnishings and doll residents too. Over the years, some of these original sets have been scattered, with pieces borrowed from one house to decorate another, used for other exhibits or sadly lost to time in the move from Jamaica Plain to Fort Point. My task has become to reunite houses with their proper furnishings…thus, down the rabbit hole I go.
As I delve into the sorting and organizing, it has been a wonderful opportunity to also explore the stories of these houses. Fortunately, one of our former Curators of Collections, Ruth Green, was an avid record keeper and maintained correspondence with donors and kept notes on exhibit use for many houses. Having these records and photographs has helped with identifying specific furnishings and accessories, which is no small task when the object in question may be a wall clock smaller than a thimble…and may be in storage with other similarly tiny wall clocks.
The fun of my job is of course having access to all these bits and pieces and calling it “work” to sort through them, match them to the photos and reunite each set. But in taking on this challenge, it has become a concern that these items must be more thoroughly documented to continue to preserve their stories. While we have accession records and donor files, what’s missing are complete catalog records and this represents the real chore.
When first gifted, many of the furnished houses were listed as just that “furnished dollhouse” but no list of the included furniture was made. And so I hope to set that straight, digitizing each house and room of furniture as I go along, tagging and storing items so that they will be easily identifiable as a set, and giving these items the attention that they so deserve. Currently I am in the sorting stage and finding new locations for furnishings in storage. Next up is photographing and numbering each item (and don’t get me started on matching up all of the other items that may have come in with the same accession or the thrill of locating all gifts by the same donor). Yes, it is a very deep hole and seems to be getting deeper. But who am I kidding – at the end of the day I still get to “play” with dollhouses.
This work was initiated by the fact that our current dollhouse exhibit Big and Little is scheduled to come down in the coming month. As a beloved area of our collection, I know the houses will be missed and asked for regularly, but that is the life of museum artifacts, spending time between exhibits and storage to make way for new things.
I grew up in Jamaica Plain during the 40’s and 50’s, and spent a great deal of time at the Children’s Museum on the corner of Burroughs St. I lived on Robinwood Ave., and there was a house near the Glenside Hospital where two elderly ladies lived. They made wonderful doll houses, and occasionally would allow neighborhood children on to see them. Are any of their houses in the current museum? I think their last name was Dennis or Dennison.
Rosemary, thank you for sharing this memory! Many of the Museum’s dollhouses have similar stories of women collecting furnishings and decorating the houses as a hobby. They would invite neighborhood children to visit and play with them. Based on our records, none of the houses at BCM come from donors by the name of Dennis or Dennison, but I will certainly keep an eye out for their names in our registration binders. We are still in the process of inventorying our dollhouse furnishings, so we have a ways to go before this collection is fully documented (to my liking).