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Tucked between Carnegie Museum of Art’s colossal, sky-lit Halls of Architecture and Sculpture is an intimate, dimly lit passageway filled with a collection that stands in stark contrast to its grand surroundings: hundreds of miniatures donated by museum patron Sarah Mellon Scaife. “Find your way into this hidden nook, and you’re rewarded with 11 luminous wee worlds,” writes Rachel Delphia, the museum’s Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design.
Designed by Pittsburgh architect Delbert Highlands, the walnut-paneled gallery space is a favorite among pint-size visitors, who can often be found standing along the gallery’s built-in stepstool, peering intently into its tiny, glowing rooms. This dining room is one of three reproductions that Scaife commissioned around 1950. It was made by a New York gallery and interior decorator, French & Company, as a small-scale copy of the dining room at Penguin Court, the Scaife residence in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. Although it’s impressively realistic, says Delphia, there are a few clues that the room is only a foot tall. Hint: Check out the oversized embroidery stitches in the chair cushions.
Other “rooms” in the Miniature Gallery are simply display cases, blank boxes built by the museum and filled with antique furnishings such as petite sideboards lined with silver plates, tankards, and sundry utensils. These diminutive objects were made in earlier centuries by the same cabinetmakers or silversmiths who would have made their full-size counterparts. Although they’re sometimes described as samples, they were likely toys—trinkets made to delight adults as much as children.
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