I’m getting hitch itch, but since we are staying home and away from people as much as possible, the only trips I am currently taking are down memory lane. I hope you will enjoy this story from our past travels.
They say that inside every senior citizen is a kid asking, “What the heck happened?” I think that’s probably true, and I know it is in my case! A perfect place to take that inner child is the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls, and Toys, which is housed in the wonderful old 1899 Pearce-McAllister cottage, just two miles from downtown.
This is a place that will take you back to your childhood, with its collection of more than 10,000 items, some dating back to the 1700s. Displays include toys ranging from dolls to board games, a model train layout, puppets, and Hot Wheels.
But the museum’s claim to fame is its collection of exquisitely crafted miniature houses, which are perfect in every detail, down to the plumbing pipes under the kitchen counters!
Some of the houses took more than 10,000 hours to complete, and they are all true works of art. Even the cups and plates are handcrafted, as well as woven rugs on the floors! Inspiration for a creation like this can come from something as simple as a single tiny accessory or the memory of a favorite house one admired from childhood.
Some miniaturists begin with a favorite piece of furniture that sets the tone for a room, like a roll-top desk that they design a den or office around, or a dry sink that is the starting point for a country kitchen, and the rest of the house grows up around that.
And the creations are not just dollhouses! The Southwest Adobe Gift Shop contains stunning tiny examples of Indian arts and crafts, from silver and turquoise jewelry to Kachina dolls, baskets, and pottery. Everything is authentic; the clay pots are painted with authentic Indian designs and colors, with paints made from local plants. The woolen rugs are examples of the unique art called pictorial weaving, in which the weaver draws inspiration from their environment instead of traditional geometric designs.
The museum’s three-walled brass 19th century German grocery shop came from the collection of the Toy Museum of Munich, Germany, and is perfect in every detail. The cupboards, drawers, worn carpet, utensils, scale, and glass containers are all original. The shop is complete with merchandise, counter, oil lamps, porcelain plates, and brass pots. This was an educational toy designed to introduce young boys to the business world.
The ground floor also has a collection of Japanese dolls that were a part of the Friendship Doll Program, inspired by missionary Dr. Sidney L. Gulick, who spent 25 years in Japan.
Concerned about rising tensions between the United States and Japan before World War II, Dr. Gulick felt that dolls could serve as goodwill ambassadors from the children of America to Japanese children. With his encouragement, each state collected hundreds of dolls to send overseas, a total of 12,739. In return, the children of Japan sent 58 Ichimatsu dolls made by Japan’s leading doll artists. The dolls were 32” tall and elaborately dressed, and often came with their own furniture and tea sets. Each state was given a doll, and the rest were placed on exhibit in museums.
With the outbreak of war, many of the dolls were removed from museums and placed in storage. Over the years, many were lost, forgotten, or damaged. Today an organization called Japanese American Doll Enthusiasts (JADE) is working with museums and collectors to find and identify all of the dolls from the Friendship Doll Program.
The second floor has displays of old time toys, dolls, and teddy bears, including Big Ben, the largest articulated teddy bear in the United States, at 6’6” tall.
There is also a huge miniature circus layout created by Charles Hendrickson, a South Dakota man who grew up in the circus and worked as a tightrope walker. He spent over seventeen years creating and hand painting hundreds of items that included not only circus performers and animals, but also a circus train, cars and trucks, employee showers, dining facilities, and more. After Hendrickson died in 2003, his family searched for a new home for his circus and chose the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls, and Toys. Damaged in storage and shipping, the layout required thousands of hours of dedicated volunteer labor by skilled miniaturists before it was ready for display.
While touring the museum is delightful, the house that holds the museum is fascinating in itself. Designed by Denver architect Frederick J. Sterner for prominent citizens Harold V. Pearce and his wife Cara, the gambrel-roofed home was designed to reflect a colonial cottage that would be at home in any small New England town. Preserved much like it was when the Pearce’s lived there, it is a good example of the lifestyle of upper middle class families from 1890 through World War I and into the Roaring Twenties.
The next time you’re in Denver, do yourself and that inner child a favor and tour the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls, and Toys. You will be glad you did.
Located at 1880 Gaylord Street, just west of City Park, the museum is open Friday – Saturday from10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 – 4 p.m. It is closed for all major holidays. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors age 62 and over, $4 for children ages 5-16, and children under 5 are free. Due to the COVID pandemic, admission is currently by appointment.
There is no parking lot, but visitors can park on the street while they tour the museum. Streets in the neighborhood are too narrow for large RVs to navigate easily.
The first floor of the museum is fully handicapped accessible, and a ramp at the side of the house allows access for wheelchairs. There is no elevator, so the second floor is not accessible. For more information, call (303) 322-1053 or visit the museum’s website at http://www.dmmdt.org.
Congratulations Tim Miller, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Free Ride, the thirteenth book in my pal Ben Rehder’s popular Blanco County mystery series. We had 42 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.
Thought For The Day – Today I plan to be as useless as the “G” in lasagna.