The Thorne Miniature Room Gallery

By Ahalya Mandana

On my first visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, I must confess that I barely had any time to see the Thorne Miniature Room Gallery, tucked away in the lower level. I’d spent the whole day upstairs, and when I realized that I still had the whole miniature section left with only an hour to spare, I went downstairs to check it out (at the time, I wanted to get my money’s worth for the price of the ticket by trying to see everything in one day). I was completely astounded by what I saw.

68 little rooms, each recreated perfectly. Even if you examined each room with a magnifying glass, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t find a single flaw. They were all planned by Narcissa Niblack Thorne (1882-1966), who started creating these rooms with her collection of miniature household objects. She hired craftsmen who helped her build all the rooms from scratch – on a scale of 1:12, which means every inch represents a foot. Initially, she displayed them at private exhibitions to raise money for charity. Her first public exhibition was in 1933 at the Century of Progress Exhibition, Chicago. She and her craftsmen completed the next set of rooms in 1937, and this set was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1940.

The gallery contains European and American rooms. One of my favorites is the French Library of the Modern Period, 1930s (E-27). Airy and well-lit, this room has a beautiful ‘view’ of Paris – if you look out of the balcony on the right, you can catch a glimpse of the Eiffel tower.

French Library of the Modern Period, 1930s (E-27). Image Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

French Library of the Modern Period, 1930s (E-27). Image Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

A glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Image Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

A glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Image Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The attention to detail is mindblowing. In the English Great Room of the Late Tudor Period, 1550-1603 (E-1), there are exquisite paintings on the wall, and a little dog snoozing by the fireplace.

English Great Room of the Late Tudor Period (E-1). Image Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

English Great Room of the Late Tudor Period (E-1). Image Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Another room that caught my eye was the Breakfast Room of the William Martin House, which is a miniature version of the breakfast room in Frank Lloyd Wright’s William Martin house. This room, which is much newer than the rest, was designed by Steven Jedd and Allison Ashby in 1998. Steven Jedd had been working on a carpentry project at the William Martin House, and decided that he wanted to make a miniature version of it. It took a whopping 800 hours to build the miniature room!

The one hour that I’d set aside for these rooms obviously wasn’t enough. I went back there again a few weeks later, and looked into each of the little rooms all over again (with childish excitement). If you want a virtual experience of the gallery, The Art Institute of Chicago has a virtual maze, called the Game of Thornes. Check it out here:

http://extras.artic.edu/archive/thorne-game/

ArtSteven Norwalk