Oberlin Blogs

Pimp My Dollhouse

January 20, 2010

Eli Goldberg ’12

So, one of my two Winter Term projects is an internship at the Oberlin Heritage Center, restoring an antique dollhouse. Last week I wrote about some of the early highlights, including reading the Ladies' Home Journal and hangin' out with Charles Finney's armchair. Since then, let me tell you, things have only gotten cooler.

We've gone on two delightful field trips - one to a local art conservation facility (picture displaced sculptures lined up in the snow outside an Ohio barn, awaiting treatment), the other to meet with an alum who is a historic preservation consultant (working out of a breathtaking brick farmhouse that he restored himself).

I've finished furniture plans for all the rooms in the dollhouse: living room with a grand piano, dining room, grown-up bedroom, and a twee little nursery that has its own toybox with tiny dolls. I've vacuumed the dust out of miniature armchairs. I've pored through countless wallpaper catalogs and started to daydream about floor coverings. (Hardwood floors? Handmade rugs? Yes we can!)

But today was easily the coolest day so far.

My mission: take apart the dollhouse. This was a daunting assignment, as I'm excellent at deconstructing things, but not so great at putting them back together. Nevertheless, it will make it much, much easier to put in wallpaper and flooring. I prowled around the house with a camera, snapping photos of every nut, bolt, and screw. Then, tools in hand, I set about dismantling the beast, methodically laying out each piece on a card table.

I unscrewed the fireplaces, pulled off the chimneys. Then I delicately lifted the roof, and very nearly died.

Still carrying the roof, I wandered in a daze into the next room, where I found my supervisor. "Hey, uh, Prue? We've got an attic full of furniture."

"...oh, my goodness. You have got to be kidding me."

Oh, yeah, there was furniture - some (sadly mildewy) couches, a complete bathroom set, a cast-iron kitchen range, a painted metal parlor set with manufacturer's stamps. But there was so much more: a working mechanical music box. A toy cash register with coupons and newspaper scraps in the drawer. A pencil case with "March 1925" written on the back. An ancient Mickey Mouse figurine. A tiny tea set. It's unbelievable that all of this was sitting under our noses the entire time - probably the person who donated the dollhouse didn't even know it was there.

I stayed well after my shift was over, exploring our new finds. After working with this house for two weeks, I thought I knew everything about it. But just pull off the roof, and suddenly the shape of my project has completely changed...

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