Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Miniatures of Frances Glessner Lee & Narcissa Thorne

The Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago

Narcissa Niblack Thorne (May 2, 1882 – June 25, 1966)
When most people think of a wealthy socialite from Chicago famous for creating miniatures they do not think of Frances Glessner Lee (March 25, 1878 – Jan. 27, 1962) of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death fame.

Narcissa Niblack Thorne and one of her miniatures
Instead, most people associate this particular miniature realm with Narcissa Niblack Thorne or as she preferred to be known Mrs. James Ward Thorne, who created the miniature masterpieces known as The Thorne Miniature Rooms.

Frances and Narcissa were friends, neighbors and traveled in the same social circles in Chicago. Narcissa worked on her miniatures in the 1930s and 1940s, the same time Frances made the majority of her Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Certainly, they weren't the only socialites creating miniatures, considering it was an acceptable feminine past-time for the upper classes, but their work stands out as extraordinary.

Both artists favored the one inch to one foot scale and used similar DIY techniques for creating their decor and textiles. The Thorne Miniature Rooms have no dolls, no narrative and were never intended to be teaching tools like the Nutshell Studies. Rather the Thorne Miniatures were studies in historical interiors from Europe, Asia and North America - ranging from the late 13th century to the early 20th century.

No dead bodies. No narrative. Just pretty. 

Like Frances, Narcissa traveled throughout Europe collecting miniature furnishings and she also employed a carpenter, like Frances.

The Thorne rooms gained so much notoriety that they were displayed in several World’s Fairs. And in 1933–1934 they were included in Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition. Narcissa went on to oversee the creation of miniature European castles, museums, and historic homes. She commissioned architects to create the miniatures and had the textiles and carpets made by the Needlework Guild of Chicago. The Thorne Rooms are currently exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Phoenix Art Museum and the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Learn more about the big world of miniatures with the The National Miniature Trust.


humming42 said...

After watching Of Dolls and Murder, I went to Chicago for a conference and visited the Art Institute with my aunt. It was November, and the Thorne Rooms were decorated for the holidays, so she was anxious to share that with me. I immediately began thinking about Frances Glessner Lee, and what motivated these two women to make their tiny worlds and how their motivations might reflect something similar in their lives, even though the outcomes are vastly different. I was delighted to find reference to Frances Glessner Lee in a biography of Narcissa Thorne, and am thrilled to learn they were more than merely neighbors.

I thank you for inspiring this growing research project that now also includes Marwencol, Joseph Cornell, and others.

Susan Marks said...

Thanks humming42! It is great to hear you observations. I heard that someone wrote and worksshopped a play about Frances and Nacissa. Wish I could have seen it!