Dollhouse Museum holiday display features 'Magic of Mice'

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BENNINGTON — The holiday exhibit at the Dollhouse and Toy Museum of Vermont is called "The Magic of Mice and Miniature Things" and features downscaled houses that originally were intended to house the collectible mice created by the R. John Wright Doll Company, also of Bennington.

While most of the focus of the museum is on traditional dollhouses, Jackie Marro — the owner and curator of the museum — has recently been urging people to "downsize" their dollhouses to make them more manageable, particularly for people moving from large homes into smaller ones. None of her downsized houses is more than 12 to 14 inches high, which means that they can be displayed on a small end table or bookcase. The houses in the new exhibit include Irish row houses, Georgian and Regency city dwellings and stone cottages, all of them inhabited by the charming R. John Wright mice.

At the same time, the new exhibit is enhanced by the museum's annual "Festival of Tiny Trees" that include more than 200 dollhouse-sized decorated Christmas trees. Some of these unique trees were created by area artists.

The museum is a delight both for children who enjoy playing with dollhouses and dolls and for adults who remember when they did. It has a large and unusual collection of dollhouses, dolls and vintage toys for boys, including trains, planes, tin soldiers, circus trains and trucks. The dollhouses include a large and ornate Victorian home, an urban townhouse, a New Orleans French Quarter house, a British Tudor house, and a Cape Cod cottage, all of them fully furnished and decorated for the holidays.

The collection of more than 300 dolls includes many of the Madam Alexander "Dolls of the World;" a large number of character dolls (including Winston Churchill, John & Jackie Kennedy, Teddy Roosevelt, John Wayne, Groucho Marx and Muhammad Ali); and many so-called "Travel Dolls" that people visiting foreign countries in the early part of the last century often brought back to show friends what people in far away places looked like and how they dressed.

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It also is the home of Vermont MoMA (the Vermont Museum of Miniature Art ), which consists of many small galleries featuring copies of works by Van Gogh, Manet, Picasso, Vermeer, John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper, and Andy Warhol, as well as original art. "It's miniature art but it's engaging because you can get a good sense of the range and scope of an artist's work," says Marro, who opened the museum in 2012. "We have copies of all of Vermeer's secular paintings, including the one that was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. And in looking at the many Van Gogh paintings that we have you can see his fascination with clouds."

Marro also calls her museum a "museum of collections" because she allows others to show their collections by putting them on temporary display for three to four months at a time. "We want it to be a place where people can share their collections with others in the community," she said.

The permanent collection also includes an engaging display of Alice in Wonderland dolls, a large display of puppets and marionettes, and an interesting collection of two dozen advertising dolls. The advertising dolls were an unusual form of marketing in which the Campbell's soup company, the Heinz ketchup company, the Coca-Cola Company and Aunt Jemima pancake mix and many others used dolls in their advertising. One of the earliest of these was a 1905 Aunt Jemima cloth doll that was offered to customers of the pancake mix. It was a flat printed piece of cloth that could be cut, stitched and stuffed by the customers for their children.

The museum also has a large collection of puppets and marionettes, as well as several puppet theaters. The collection demonstrates how from the Middle Ages right through the early days of television, puppets were a popular form of entertainment in many parts of the world. Hand puppets were used in Britain for Punch and Judy shows, and the stick that Punch repeatedly hit Judy with was called a "slapstick," which is where the term "slapstick" for heavy-handed comedy comes from.

Marionettes (puppets on strings) were dressed as warrior knights in Sicily to depict the knights who fought the Saracens in the 8th century. Shadow puppets, many featuring tigers and women dancers, were popular in Indonesia. And one of the most popular of the early television shows in the 1950s was "The Howdy Doody Show," which was performed live in a New York television studio. "Howdy Doody" who usually was dressed as a cowboy, was a red-headed, freckle-faced marionette with eleven strings and 48 freckles, one for each of the 48 states that existed at the time.

The museum is located at 212 Union St. and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m., or by appointment. During the holidays it also will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 23, 24, 27, 30 and 31. Admission is $2 for children 3 and older, $4 for adults and $10 for families. For more information, visit dollhouseandtoymuseumofvermont.com or call 802 681-3767.


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