Thursday, March 29, 2012

America's Doll House: The Miniature World of Faith Bradford

America's Doll House: The Miniature World of Faith Bradford. William L. Bird, Jr. 2010. Princeton Architectural Press. 128 pages.

From the book jacket:
One of the most popular exhibits at the Smithsonian Institute is a dollhouse. Sitting on the museum's third floor is the five-story home donated to the museum by Faith Bradford, a Washington, D.C. librarian, who spent more than half-a-century accumulating and constructing the 1,354 miniatures that fill its 23 intricately detailed rooms. When Bradford donated them to the museum in 1951, she wrote a lengthy manuscript describing the lives of its residents: Mr. and Mrs. Peter Doll and their ten children, two visiting grandparents, twenty pets, and household staff. Bradford cataloged the Dolls' tastes, habits, and preferences in neatly typed household inventories, which she then bound, along with photographs and fabric samples, in a scrapbook. In America's Doll House, Smithsonian curator William L. Bird, Jr., weaves this visual material into the rich tapestry of Faith Bradford's miniature world. Featuring vibrant photography that brings every narrative detail to life. America's Doll House is both an incisive portrait of a sentimental pastime and a celebration of Bradford's remarkable and painstaking accomplishment. 
I almost never rely on summaries written by other people, but, in the case of America's Doll House, I couldn't think of a better way to say it. After all, if that description made me WANT to pick this book up, then maybe it will make you want to do the same!!! I can't say that the description fits the book exactly--in one or two phrases, I think there is a bit of exaggerating going on. But. Still.

America's Doll House has a mini-biography of Faith Bradford. Readers learn a bit about her childhood, how she came to start her miniature collection, how this was a hobby she shared with her sister, how almost all of her original collection was lost (and/or stolen). Readers learn a bit about her private life and public life, her career as a librarian. Readers gain a bit of background into the times. Readers really see how this hobby shaped her life--through the decades--and how important it was to her, how absorbing of a pastime it was to her.

But America's Doll House also has a mini-lesson on the Smithsonian museum. Readers learn about what the museum was like at this time--late 40s through late 50s. Readers learn about what exhibits the museum had. Which exhibits were the most popular, where they were located, how various people responded to the museum. Perhaps most importantly it focuses on the tension of the times. The desire to have collections for their historic value, for their social value, but at the same time be new and modern and relevant to the times. Many pages are spent talking about money, talking about new buildings, remodeling, etc.

The book is very detailed in the relationship between the museum and Faith Bradford. How she came to donate her collection. What she expected the museum to do for her and her collection. How she wanted it displayed, etc. Also there is some discussion about a second dollhouse she had built for the museum. A doll house that went straight to storage--for better or worse. Going back to the tension of the times. The book also mentions that this second dollhouse is now missing. (Oh, how sad that sentence made me.)

Over half the book is photographs. And these photographs are good. The detail is much greater than the photos displayed on the online exhibit site. You can see the details of each room. You can see the dolls themselves. So the book is very good if that's what you're looking for!

Read America's Doll House
  • If you are interested in dolls, collecting dolls, doll houses, doll miniatures, etc.
  • If you are interested in exhibits at American museums
  • If you are interested in the hobbies of librarians
  • If you are interested in this time period, 1950

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

I love that doll house, and have visited it many times! I want this book...