Saturday, 31 January 2015

I'm not dead yet... :) Visit to 'Small Stories: At home in a dollshouse" at the Museum of Childhood

.... although you might have wondered considering how few posts there have been lately.  That's because I still haven't got my dollshouses unpacked and my new dollshouse room set up now that we've moved.  I'm waiting on our erratic kitchen fitter as I've asked him to source me some secondhand kitchen base units and come and fit them under some countertop in the cellar to be my dollshouse display.  I haven't heard from him yet this year so I assume he's either forgotten or not yet come across suitable cabinets.

So I haven't been doing much dollshousing because everything including my tools and paints is still in a box.

But I did pay a visit this week to London to the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green to visit the 'Small Stories: At home in a dollshouse' exhibition.  This is a free to enter display in the upstairs mezzanine which opened in December and will run until 6 September 2015.  This exhibition was publicised with articles in every dollshouse magazine I take, so it made me curious to go and see it even though in general I am not that keen on the out-of-scale world of antique dollshouses.

The moment I stepped through the museum doors I remembered what I don't like about it: screaming kids.  Everywhere.  Running around, screaming constantly, playing, it's one giant playground for bored small children with their accompanying adults trailing after them. And because the building is constructed like a small railway shed, with a doubleheight ceiling, all the noise is echoing as well.  But I gritted my teeth and headed upstairs to where the exhibition starts.

The website says there are 12 dollshouses in the exhibition.  Each one is protected in a glass box, with accompanying visual material such as portraits of people from the relevant period, engravings of period interiors, scraps of curtain fabric, vintage advertisements etc.  For each house, they have created backstories for certain dolls living in the house - the dolls get a named portrait next to the house, and a button with their picture next to it on the control panel in front of the glass case.  When you push their button, you hear an actor speaking their story as if they were real people living in the house.  After a few stories, I found I got a bit bored with this because the scripts are all about them worrying about their baby, or about people coming for dinner, and have no bearing on the dollshouse itself apart from perhaps mentioning some of their furniture or possessions.  Also there was a constant asteroid belt of small kids zooming up to wildly push the buttons and then running off again in orbit without waiting to hear anything. As you can't push any other buttons until the script finishes, this could be trying.  The button I did want to push was 'Light All' which would turn on all of any lights that had been placed inside.  For some houses, this was only one or two lights, in others most of the rooms were lit which was quite charming.  Each house has a small placard giving limited information about its history, with larger placards for each themed section talking about changing social history and the impact on housing.

Some of the houses are displayed closed, and you can only peep in the windows at what were mostly empty rooms.  But several splendid houses had their doors open including my favourite house, the Tate Baby House from 1760. I was really pleased to see it because in the past it has sometimes been displayed closed, but in this exhibition you can clearly see everything and view the fronts, one side, and the roof.  I've always thought that one day I would like to build a house that is reminiscent of the Tate House while keeping to smaller proportions. Because it is huge.

In addition to the houses, the museum has recreated two life-sized rooms from the dollshouses: a Victorian kitchen and a 60s living room, both in very simplified form and designed as children's playrooms with little dressing up costumes (all MIA when I was there).

I liked some of the little touches inside the dollshouses, like these delicate gauze roller blinds.

The exhibition runs chronologically, finishing with a weird plastic 'Kaleidoscope' house which doesn't look useful either as a plaything or a collectable, and a collection of roomboxes furnished by a mixed bag of artists.  Some of the roomboxes are very 'artistic' but others were more conventionally furnished.  This room by Liberty Art Fabrics Interiors was quite attractive.  I particularly like the books, each with a Liberty print dust jacket.

After finishing the exhibition, I went over to look at the many dollshouses on permanent display.  I liked this recent model of a patisserie shop, made special by being wedge-shaped rather than square.

And then I escaped back to the relative quiet of the traffic thundering down the busy road outside the museum.  Some of the houses were quite interesting - there was a huge one in stained wood which had its own elevator for example - and the furnished ones had lots to look at.  On the whole I enjoyed it, although I think it would have been nice to have found out more about the houses themselves and how they came to be at the museum, and how much of their contents is original etc. It was certainly a masterclass in the many different ways a dollshouse can be constructed and accessed.

No comments: