Saturday, February 29, 2020

Art Institute of Chicago; The Thorne Miniature Rooms.

The Art Institute of Chicago Thorne Miniature Rooms exhibit is from Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago, who loved dollhouses and miniatures as a child. After traveling in Europe, where she collected miniature furniture and accessories, Mrs. Thorne commissioned over two dozen miniature rooms created by cabinetmakers from her own drawings. The scale of the furnishings is 1:12 (one inch to one foot). The rooms were exhibited in the 1933-1934 Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition, the 1939 San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition, and in the 1940 New York World's Fair.
One can stare at the Thorne miniature rooms for hours.
Later, Mrs. Thorne had 29 more rooms created, copying Europe's castles, museums, and historic homes. She commissioned architects to create historically accurate settings and had the textiles and carpets made by the Needlework Guild of Chicago. The rooms showing the French and English architectural and decorating styles from the 1500s to the 1920s were exhibited in 1937 at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1942, Mrs. Thorne gave 37 more Miniature Rooms to the Art Institute of Chicago. Those rooms offered views of American history between 1875 and 1940.

The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th Century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th Century to the 1930s. Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and built between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications.

The Art Institute of Chicago's Thorne Miniature Rooms exhibit of 68 individual rooms is said to be the world's largest miniature-room collection.

The black and white postcard photographs are from the 1940s. The modern color photographs are of the same rooms for comparison. Some items have been added, moved, or are missing from some miniature rooms between the 1940s photos and the modern color photographs.
Can you find the changes made from the b/w 1940s to
the 80s color postcards in these miniature rooms?
Thorne's Cape Cod Cottage Living Room. 1750

Thorne's Georgia Double Parlor. 1850

Thorne's Jeremiah Lee Mansion Drawing Room, Massachusetts. 1768

Thorne's Maryland Dining Room. 1770

Thorne's Mount Vernon West Parlor, Virginia. 1758

Thorne's New Mexico Dining Room. 1940

Thorne's New York Parlor. 1850-70

Thorne's Oak Hill Bedroom, Massachusetts. 1801

Thorne's Pierce Mansion Entrance Hall, New Hampshire. 1799

Thorne's Shaker Community House Living Room. 1800

Thorne's The Hermitage Tennessee Entrance Hall. 1835

Thorne's Virginia Kitchen 18th Century.

Thorne's Wentworth Gardner House Dining Room, New Hampshire. 1760

View all 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms.

ADDITIONAL READING: The Art Institute of Chicago Building Contract and Completion Details from 1892.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. My favorite! Thanks so much for the beautiful pictures.

  2. The thing that excites me about the Thorne rooms, besides the perfection of the miniatures, is the lighting and glimpses through the doors ajar and the windows . I think it changes each setting from a shoebox diorama to a world of imagination for the viewers.

  3. Fabulous form of art - Just amazing and wonderful to see - as always, Neil, thank you for the lovely enlightenments you provide.

  4. My mother and I spent hours looking at each room.


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