“Have a hobby for it’s the greatest fun in the world, said Mrs. Thorne. My advice to every boy and girl is to start collecting something–stamps, books, dolls, anything which particularly appeals.”
Mrs. James Ward Thorne
San Francisco News
September 1, 1938
Narcissa Niblack started collecting miniatures when she was a young girl. As an adult, Mrs. James Ward Thorne’s hobby turned into a full-time project. For 15 years she designed and created dollhouses for all of the little girls in the family and wards of several children’s hospitals. They were large and complete dollhouses. As her enthusiasm for interior design increased, the houses became more and more sophisticated.
Mrs. Thorne decided she might develop some interesting way of making rooms in miniature which could be exhibited in museums as an educational tool for students of architecture and interior design. The result was a gift for Chicago and the world when she donated a series of miniature period rooms to the Art Institute of Chicago. The European and American Rooms were permanently installed in their own gallery, providing an accurate history of architecture and interior design as well as a history of domestic life.
Narcissa started collecting miniatures as a child and was encouraged by her uncle, Rear Admiral Albert Niblack. He brought Narcissa souvenirs of tiny furniture, vases, silver, and tea sets from his U.S. Navy tours abroad.
Mrs. Thorne said, when interviewed:
“When I was a small girl, I had a tall, jolly uncle who loved teenie-weenie things. He traveled all over the world and when he came back from his exciting adventures, he always brought me the most interesting presents. These lovely little gifts were the inspiration for my collection of miniature things. I kept everything tucked away in boxes. Then one Christmas, my mother gave me a mahogany cabinet, which looked as though it had been taken from the house of the seven dwarfs, for it was only three feet high and had four shelves and glass doors which locked with a small brass key. And I proudly transferred my collection there.”
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