My Dorm Room Pinboard

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ever since I moved into my first university dorm room in 2014, I aimed to create the perfect pinboard. I wish I could have had the artistic freedom of Tezza, whose beautiful wall, covered to the ceiling with magazine scraps, polaroids and doodles, is the ultimate forms of inspiration. I however, was limited within the boundaries of my (thankfully rather large) pinboard. Yet, despite these constraints, I was able to create a collage that is both personal and eye-catching.
In every dormitory I inhabited my pinboard changed styles and content, fortunately, I am happy to say that my current one is my favourite! Over time, through trial and error, I have learned what works, what looks good and what to avoid. Below I list some tips and advice on how to construct that enviable pinboard - but remember, most importantly, it has to be unique to YOU.

1. To give your composition harmony create a gradient of colours. Do you see how in the top left corner of the pinboard there is a focus on warmer, yellow tones? These are then echoed in the yellow profile of the woman in the March 1934 Harper's Bazaar cover illustration poster, as well as in the yellow slogan-postcard on the bottom. You can also see these tones referenced in the opposite corner in the sepia toned photograph of my grandmother. A similar thing can be said about the colour green, which is prevalent in the central vertical line of the composition and then also seen on the left side in the other Harper's Bazaar cover illustration poster from February, 1929.

2. Use washi tape - it's cute ;)

3. Include a mix of types of photographs and illustrations. High-fashion magazine editorials, museum postcards of paintings, slogan postcards (the two I added are both from Paperchase), vintage magazine cover illustrations, personal family archives, Photo Booth pictures, polaroids, theatre or cinema tickets and images of favourite entertainers are all great things to include.

4. Think about texture. Is your image printed, developed from film, drawn, cut out or even ripped from a magazine? All of this adds interesting variety to your pinboard composition. Notice how the vintage 1940s photograph above stands out compared to the the early 2000s photograph below it. And the two also look different from the 1990s flash-lit image even lower. The same is the case with the trio of images from the Photo Booth and the tiny black and white image of Gabrielle Chanel, which was cut out from a recent issue of Harper's Bazaar.

5. Edges and framing. I already mentioned ripping vs. cutting images from magazines or simply from printed pieces of paper. But this little detail can significantly add to the aesthetic appeal of pinboards and collages. Above you can see how the slightly tattered edges of a few vintage photographs create a subtle change in style compared to the scalloped edges and thin white frame of the even older ones. Similarly, the Vincent van Gogh Starry Night postcard is framed with the painting in the centre, leaving a wide frame around it. The same is the case with the portrait by Allan Ramsay, however here the frame resembles a polaroid, which is another intriguing element.

6. Do not always use images. Sometimes you may end up with a bare narrow space with no image that will fit the blank spot. In such cases I suggest opting for patterns. Below you can see how I filled two spaces with a yellow floral print - it was actually part of a billowing dress photographed in a fashion editorial! It is these tiny detail that give your pinboard that "organised chaos" kind of feel.   

Pinboards are an expression of yourself. Especially at school or at university, when new friends will probably often knock on your door, your unique pinboard will be able to do all the talking (although I do advise you do some yourself too) and offer insight into the kind of person you are, what interests you have, what you find beautiful, what you stand for, what your family is like, your values, and the experiences you have gained. They can take a while to make, because gathering content that truly expresses your vision and sorting through family photo archives is not an easy feat. Remember to enjoy the process though, because you will be looking a this masterpiece for a good while and nobody wants to reminisce about frustrating times or question hasty choices. Have fun and good luck with your creations!

Below are some examples of the collages Tezza created which, as I mentioned at the beginning, made me fall in love with this form of self-expression! Take a look, which ones do you like most?

A post shared by ⚡️Tezza⚡️ (@tezzamb) on

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The Dollhouse Museum in Warsaw

Friday, October 20, 2017

Last summer, upon my mother's suggestion, I decided to visit the relatively newly opened Dollhouse Museum. A small exhibition space, situated within the previously inaccessible secret quarters of the Congress Hall in the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, it houses a rather impressive collection of historical dollhouses and, in most cases, includes the dolls for which the houses were made. Surprisingly hidden from view, due to its entrance through one of the Palace's inner courtyards, one has to circle the monumental Palace of Culture to find the entrance. Once you do, however, it is like stepping into a fairytale and the awe one feels in the midst of the tiny, beautiful worlds within is shared by both children and adults alike. I can guarantee you that!

Above: A bedroom from Brownstone House, c. 1930, Livingston Manor, NY. Donated by Maria Lambasa.

Placing particular focus on German, Polish and Eastern European toy manufacturers the collection also features work hailing from England, North America and China, and spans the entirety of the 20th century. Although the museum's primary focus is on dollhouses, visitors obtain a thorough insight into the practices and forms of play through the houses' careful assembly, authentic reproduction and creative display. The museum features over a hundred dollhouses, with the oldest being an over 200 year old neo-gothic altar. The museum's permanent collection entitled In The World of Old Dollhouses belongs to its founder, Aneta Popiel-Machnicka, who has been acquiring her pieces for over eleven years and, after traveling with them for many years, realised they needed a permanent home to prevent further deterioration. Opened in June 2016, the Dollhouse Museum is the first toy-related museum in Poland's capital.

For me, one of the most interesting elements of historical dollhouses is their manner of construction. Viewing the collection one begins to notice materials and elements that repeat themselves. One of the most obvious examples is plywood. The V&A Museum in London currently has an exhibition dedicated solely to this versatile material (on until 12 November 2017) although I do not recall dollhouses mentioned as one of the objects heavily reliant on its use. Naturally there was extensive discussion about the use of plywood to produce furniture, which theoretically encompasses dollhouses and their tiny furniture, too. Plaster was another repeatedly mentioned material, most likely due to the ease with which it can be painted and spackled. And the same is the case with wood. In general most toys of the past were made from sturdier, harder and stiffer materials. As can be seen in the photos below, the models of pet dogs are made of lacquered porcelain. Even the "softer" terrier is made of cardboard and artificial hair, which would have been much more coarse than contemporary furry, stuffed animal toys. I would compare them more in form to Silvanian Families (does anybody still remember Sylvanians?), which were similarly rigid but as a result more easily clothed and positioned to stand within their carefully decorated homes. From personal experience I know that often times planing, preparing and decorating the surroundings can be more enjoyable than the subsequent game. Indeed these historical dollhouses serve the preparation phase well and tell us in no uncertain terms that building a proper dollhouse is no mean feat and can quickly become the game itself - whether you are the builder of even just the child, picking fabrics, making choices and helping out alongside.

Each dollhouse is, therefore, the fruit of the choices living people made at some point in history. Often times they are results of collaborations, team work, while at other times they are created by a single person, in secret, to be presented as a surprise gift for their most beloved child. It is the great effort that goes into their production (or, to be practical, maybe it's just their often large size) which causes them to rarely be treated with indifference. They are testaments not only to their time but also to the family they belonged to. Many of the examples displayed continue to tell heartwarming stories of friendship and love. Even those mass produced, due to their scarcity, elicit feelings of mutual understanding within those who owned identical models or bring back childhood memories of visiting a close school friend - that one who had the hospital set or the fully-functioning toy bathroom. In Poland there never existed a wide tradition of building dollhouses, yet it was precisely these mass produced toys from Communist era that generated the most success for Polish toy manufacturers and earned them many awards and accolades.

I took A LOT of photographs while on this visit and it was difficult to pick out the best - the reason why there are so many. Nonetheless, I think they show well the variety, high quality and wonder of historical dollhouses. It truly is a shame that children rarely play in this way today and for this reason I think such museums should be promoted and maintained, because they give a glimpse into a time that has passed but still is very much alive. We are all children at one point and all children like to reimagine the real world; dollhouses let us do that in perfect replica form - but without the heating bill! Read on for more descriptions, insights and information on this remarkable collection.

The Hungarian Room, a little wooden room from the end of the 20th cetury is fitted with Hungarian, hand-painted furniture in the folk style of c. 1950. The unglazed bisque doll is wearing an elaborately made traditional Hungarian christening gown and leather shoes with beaded buttons. Notice the angels flanking the picture frame atop the highest shelf as well as the ceramic angel figurine below it. That, combined with the frequent floral motif on the wallpaper, furniture, china carafe, picture frame and child's dress suggest a focus on the feminine, the motherly and on fleeting childhood innocence.

A set of 1:16 scale plastic furniture made c.1975. The Vero Orange Room is one of many miniature rooms produced by the VERO company, the German toy business that began in 1972. To the left side of the room is a poster promoting the film Sunset Boulevard (1950, dir. Billy Wilder) by renowned Polish artist, Waldemar Swierzy, widely recognised for his pioneering poster designs. I wonder about the connection the film has to this room, especially considering the more than two decade age gap. Perhaps it is the eccentric character of Gloria Swanson, which does seem to fit in well with the room's psychedelic colour scheme, or maybe it is simply the fact that the red poster fits in well with the red armchairs beneath it. As a student and lover of cinema, I always appreciate a bit of filmic reference, so I do hope it is the former.ącego+Słońca-1950-31278

Below is Krahmer Doll's Bedroom, a set of Polish wooden bedroom furniture made at the beginning of the 20th century in the scale of 1:5. The bed and wardrobe are originals, the remaining furniture was reconstructed in beech wood by the miniaturist Maciej Sztolcman, from designs made between 1905 and 1907 by Wladyslaw Sztolcman. The doll features a handcrafted limewood head, cotton body, leather shoes and original costume; she comes from the German company, Die Krahmer-Puppe, founded in 1947 in Chemnitz.

Above is a close shot of the toilette. The porcelain basin and soap box, oils lamp, miniature real wood and bristle hairbrush, silver tray, embroidered gauze table mat and even the burgundy velvet upholstered chair, all add to the relatable feel of the room and initiate a feeling of veracity and faithfulness to real life. A child playing with these objects will find it easy to replicate all the stages they themselves must remember to complete as they get ready for bedtime or wake up in the morning. Play is as much a form of entertainment as it is a reinterpretation of reality; it gives children the opportunity to repeat the tasks they need to master and, in doing so, either reaffirms their importance or allows children to question why it is that they must be done. For example, miniature sacred altars (similar to the one visible further along) were often gifted to children who were expected to enter the convent or ministry in the future. They were supposed to foster in children an appreciation for the consecrated life and hopefully coax them into ultimately making up their minds in favour of joining.   

Here we have Miss Hope's House, a wooden dollhouse from 1945-1950, designed by a Polish pilot from Wing 304, who settled in London after World War II. It was purchased by the museum's founder at an auction in the UK and later recognised by the pilot's granddaughter as her own - she was happy that her long lost dollhouse was finally in safe hands. The house has been completely restored and can be accessed from all four sides, its layout represents that of a typical English home. A family of dolls made by CACO, a German company, and two tricoloured porcelain Rough Collies inhabit the building.

Along with the house depicted in the title photograph, this dollhouse is equally detailed and meticulously handcrafted. It must be remembered that it has been fully restored; nevertheless it represents a truthful example of a British child's dollhouse from the end of World War II. The photographs speak for themselves, however, note the variety of toys in the nursery, the glasswork in the bathroom window, the tiny perfume bottle atop the bathtub, the hanging meat and stacked potatoes in the pantry and of course the working lights. 

The Chinese Room - This miniature Chinese room from c. 1940 is made of wood and cardboard, fully wall-papered and fitted with original furniture. The room features original Chinese dolls from c. 1910-1920. The dolls are painted and made of plaster with a wire base construction. They are dressed in perfectly preserved silk costumes.

This Bulgarian Sitting Room consists of soft plastic furniture in a "palatial" style. It was produced in c. 1978 at the CHEMIK factory in Sofia, Bulgaria. The furniture was made in various colour sets and exported to Eastern Bloc countries. The Marie Antoinette celluloid doll was made in France, c. 1970.

The Gottschalk House with Terrace is a two-roomed German house from 1958-1960. Produced as part of a series by Moritz Gottschalk, one of the best known toy companies, which was founded in Marienberg near the Ore Mountains in 1865. The preserved fittings and furniture are original. The house is guarded by a small cardboard terrier with artificial hair. 

I felt compelled to include a close-up shot of one of the paintings inside. It looks as though it has been painted by hand - a miniature reproduction of an impressionist work. The many plants on the windowsill and the vines climbing towards the ceiling remind me of the contemporary craze for plants (these days cactuses seem to be the most popular) to be present in our living spaces.

A variety of wooden furniture pieces produced at the GROMADA Cooperative in Kielce, Poland (c. 1970-1978). Reflecting Polish design from the 1970s, these models won numerous awards at international toy shows and competitions.

Municipal School - This spacious Polish classroom from c. 1935 is made of wood and features a cambered floor and revolving door. Some of the pieces are Polish furniture made by the GROMADA Cooperative in the 1950s, while others are contemporary reproductions. The teacher is a bisque doll made in the 1930s and the students are celluloid and rubber German dolls, all wearing original clothing. 

Notice the Frederic Chopin "Nocturnes and Polonaises" sheet music lying atop the piano. The composer is one of the most distinguished Polish artists and so learning his music would be considered patriotic as well as a symbol of good education and a refined taste in classical music. The miniature school bell hanging on the wall above the piano is still in working order! Easily unnoticed is the hanging skeleton attached to the wall by a nail, which, along with all the other graphs, maps and specimens, signifies the variety of subjects children are taught about in this colourful and energetic classroom full of stimuli.

A self-assembly, plastic kitchen manufactured between 1975 and 1980 in Brno by the Czechoslovakian company Chemoplast.

The Brownstone House was a dollhouse made by a farmer for his granddaughter at the end of the 1930s in Livingston  Manor, New York. The house represents a typical New York City brownstone. Original removable side walls were turned into partial walls to expose the interior. Because the original fittings did not survive, the house is decorated with 20th century replicas to convey the sophisticated bourgeois interior of the 1930s. Donated by Maria Lambasa.

In my opinion this was one of the most "beautiful" houses in the collection. Just look at the photos, it almost looks like a fancy listing on Douglas Elliman! It reminded me of the dollhouses I was lusting over as a twelve year old girl in FAO Schwarz (sadly now closed forever *insert major sobbing emoji* - so I had to include a eulogistic photograph below). There is such great attention to detail that it would be difficult to compare this dollhouse to any contemporary toy. Well perhaps technically sophisticated video games are comparable but the nature of their complexity is very different and it seems sad to think that such a tangible art has been replaced by the virtual world. A world which, due to its lack of physicality, does not possess the inherent ability to connect or act upon all the human senses.

The Dollhouses and Miniatures department at the FAO Schwarz flagship store on 5th Avenue, NYC. 

The above Room with Swans is a small (1:12 scale) room made at the end of the 20th century, it is fitted out with restored furniture from 1950 to 1955 and miniature glass swans as well as household knick-knacks. The flower picture on the wall was hand embroidered using minuscule cross-stitches. Note the variety of sewing-themed magazines, including one entitled "Ottoman Embroidery" lying on the coffee table alongside the spools of yarn and buttons. The room also features broderie-anglaise pillowcases piled on the daybed and an embroidered placemat visible on the coffee table and also under the glass object on the right-hand cabinet.

Interestingly there are two gallery walls, this time not featuring stitchwork, but rather coloured profiles and portraits of women from the 1920s in feathered turbans and wide brimmed hats. It seems most likely that this was a room either for or designed by a lady with a penchant for needlework and an eye for neatness and refined elegance. I would gladly flip through the magazines in it myself, if only I could fit inside!

This little wooden Draper's Shop was made in Germany, c. 1940. It was restored and fitted with lace samples, bales and lengths of fabric, as well as with the dozens of haberdashery articles on display. The porcelain shop assistant was made between 1930 and 1940.

The small shop above, made from plywood in the scale of 1:12, is mockingly called the Dream of the People's Republic of Poland. It is a small, but very well equipped butchers delicatessen. The interior was painstakingly detailed to include cracked tiles and a copy of authentic weighing scales from the Lublin Department of Weights and Measurements. The poster on the wall and the Wishes and Complaints book on the shelf are reminders of the past when Communist era shops offered only empty shelves. The corpulent salesperson is a bisque doll.

This large English shop is an Edwardian Wedding Parlour, c. 1900. Made of wood and furnished with contemporary reconstructions of shelves and display cabinets with six mannequins in dresses of the period, as well as corsets, shoes, hats, purses, gloves, sunshades, jewellery and other Edwardian style accessories. A wide range of photo albums and wedding invitations complete the display. Wall lights are decorated with crystal beads.

A corner of a room within a house entitled The Writer's House (c. 1950-1960). Created by the German company VEB Holzspielwarenfabrik Grunhainichen im Erzgebirge (Ore Mointains). Decorated to resemble a latter day bachelor pad owned by a writer, every book in this dollhouse has real pages and there are marks of rust and dirt inside the shower. Note the gauze-like material used to simulate foam in the sink, as well as the purple dishcloth hanging from the cupboard above it!

Little Toy Shop - well preserved and in its original state, this open-style wooden shop with an oval window was made in Germany (c. 1970). The shop has a counter and fixed shelves displaying toys from that period: dolls, teddy bears, and other wooden, plastic, metal and material toys. The salesman is a ceramic, wire-construction doll from the 1980s. I actually owned a tiny wooden ship, just like the one which sits inside the shelf to the right of the salesman! Note, once again, the attention to detail with the dolls being sold and displayed in professional boxes of varying colours.  

Made between 1920 and 1930, this small wooden openwork altar is furnished with incense sticks, a tin crucifix and chalice, candlesticks and a hand-embroidered runner. The plastic dolls, which have movable limbs and closing eyelids are from the French company, MS Deposee. One of the dolls is dressed in Breton costume.

Emporium Hospital is a wooden hospital made by The Dolls House Emporium, a British company established in 1979. This foldable set includes everything necessary to play hospital, including wooden dolls: a doctor, a nurse and a patient.

Playmobil Hospital is a multi-storey, cardboard hospital for PLAYMOBIL figurines made by the German company, Geobra Brandstatter Stiftung & Co. KG - the biggest German producer of toys. Beginning in 1974 the company has introduced PLAYMOBIL thematic sets in more than 30 different themes, from historical to contemporary. This St. Marx Hospital model was made in the 1970s.

Victorian Dollhouse Willowcrest - A self-assembly kit made of wood and plywood, Willowcrest Villa is an elegant and multi-roomed dollhouse produced in a limited series by the American company Greenleaf in the second half of the 20th century. It exhibits the design elements of the Second Empire (1852-1870), as is visible in the four-sided pitched roof (known as a mansard), dormer windows and ornate porch. The renovation of this dollhouse was carried out by Polish miniaturist, Maciej Sztolcman.

Apart from the permanent collection, shown above, The Dollhouse Museum also features a temporary exhibition. The day I visited the one on display was entitled Around the World: An Exhibition of Ethnic Dolls from the Collection of Ewa and Jagoda Liszka. It featured over 200 small dolls from every corner of the world, segregated according to geographical region and dressed in folk costume. Although they might not make as colossal an impression as some of the elaborate dollhouses, they are nonetheless pearls to enjoy and admire for their variety and unique design. If you have an eye for detail and love to study objects from a close distance then I think you would enjoy the display - it will be interesting to see what future temporary exhibitions will focus on. Fortunately the dollhouses, which did seem to be preferred by the younger children, are on permanent display.

If you speak Polish, I recommend this video in which the founder of the museum, Aneta Popiel-Machnicka, talks about her collection, why she decided to open the museum and their plans for the future. She also tells the story of a sanitary worker who used cigar boxes made of good quality plywood, which he received as gifts from the patients he cared for, to create the furniture for his daughters' dollhouse. When one opens the little drawers the cigar wrappers are still visible on the inside!

I would also like to mention, for those interested more in the dolls themselves, that Warsaw is actually the home to a number of puppet, doll and marionette theatres. The most known are Teatr Lalka (The Doll Theatre), which happens to be housed in the same building as the Dollhouse Museum, Teatr Baj ("Baj" Theatre) and Teatr Guliwer (Gulliver's Theatre). Each institution has their own rich collection of puppets, some regularly used during productions and others careful stored due to their historical value. Teatr Baj is the oldest puppet theatre in Poland, however each one is definitely worth a visit. The position of music director at Teatr Lalka is held by famed Polish composer and lyricist - Grzegorz Turnau (one of my personal favourite musicians), so I think that speaks to the quality and level of creative genius these theatres represent.

The production of Secret Child (dir. Marian Pecko, costumes and dolls by Eva Farkasova, 2012) at Teatr Lalka in Warsaw, Poland.

Some captions under photos include fragments copied from the plaques featured in the museum.

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