Daily Dose: Thorne Miniature Rooms

german sitting room of the biedermeier period 1937

German Sitting Room of the Biedermeier Period, 1937. Mrs. James Ward Thorne

Add to TwitterI’ve always been intrigued by the Thorne Miniature Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago, but I knew little about the story behind them and their creators – until today. Mrs. James Ward Thorne, born Narcissa Niblack, was the creative inspiration and designer behind these 100 period-style rooms. She was a collector of miniature furniture and amassed her knowledge of various interior designs through extensive travel and reading. Photographs from her journeys served as models for her and her workshop of artisans who made the to-scale (1 inch = 1 foot) rooms and their accessories. Thorne even had the intricately woven rugs made by her acquaintances!

thorne combo

English Reception Room of the Jacobean Period; Wentworth Gardner Dining Room, New Hampshire 1760

Most of the rooms showcase European or American interiors from the 13th (European) or 17th (American) centuries until the 1930s. They were conceived of and constructed between 1932 and 1940.

shaker living room c. 1800, 1940

Shaker Living Room, 1800

japanese traditional interior 1937

Japanese Traditional Interior

Thorne’s rooms were an immediate sensation; they were on display in the 1933-34 Chicago Century of Progress exhibition as well as the 1939 and 1940 World’s Fairs in San Francisco and New York City. Her scale of one inch : one foot became a standard for miniatures. Thorne also influenced museum trends of her time. It was becoming increasingly popular for museums to build full-scale period rooms which raised spatial as well as monetary concerns. The miniature rooms offered a captivating, economic alternative to the full-sized rooms. She also made accessible to thousands what was previously only accessible to those wealthy enough to travel.


Pierce Mansion Entrance Hall, New Hampshire 1799

The Thorne Miniature Rooms are currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago (68), the Phoenix Art Museum (20), the Knoxville Museum of Art (9), the Kaye Miniature Museum in Los Angeles (1) and the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (1).


New Mexico Dining Room

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