Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Little things mean a lot

I don't know about you, but when someone tells me she bought a building and turned it into a museum for her collection of dolls, dollhouses, and miniatures, I'm impressed!

Today I'm sharing an interview with the woman who pulled this off—Lori Kagan-Moore, curator of The Great American Dollhouse Museum in Danville, Kentucky.

Lori's bio, in a nutshell (so to speak):

Lori Kagan-Moore's professional voyage has led her from a clinical faculty position at Ohio State University's Department of Psychiatry through a number of exciting years as owner and operator of Lori's Antique and Vintage Jewelry in Lexington, Kentucky, to her current position as Curator of The Great American Dollhouse Museum. Coming from several generations of professional antique appraisers, auctioneers, and storeowners, she has a long-term familiarity and love of the antiques business, and miniatures in particular.

Lori holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, a Master of Arts in Public Administration (MAPA), and a Masters in Social Work (MSW), both from Ohio State University.

Questions for Lori

Did you have dollhouses as a child?
I had one large and plain wooden one, which wouldn’t bring five dollars in the Museum Store today. However, I decorated it myself, from the wallpaper to the fixtures to the furniture.

What’s in the Museum?
The Great American Dollhouse Museum is a social history museum in miniature. Social history looks at the day-to-day lives of ordinary people during various periods of history. While political history or military history may spotlight George Washington or the Battle of Gettysburg, social history focuses on how people worked, played, and related to one another in times gone by.

How did the Museum get its start?
In 2003, I decided to create a unique dollhouse museum. I envisioned a lively, vivid museum that would contribute to the community through both its educational and its entertainment value. I wanted to create a museum bursting with stories, both the larger story of the history of the country, and the individual stories of the little “people,” who would inhabit the museum exhibits.

As a collector of antique miniatures from early childhood, I purchased and assembled, over five years, the dollhouses, miniatures, and dolls needed to realize my vision. With help from my committed team, I restored and furnished close to two hundred dollhouses and room boxes. In addition, my husband, Patrick Kagan-Moore, and I purchased the building, undertook extensive renovations, and began landscaping the surrounding grounds.

Tell us about the building.

Reports suggest that tanks were once parked in front! Built as a National Guard Armory in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration, the 6000 square-foot building was designed to house heavy vehicles and equipment. The building’s beautiful barrel ceiling, with hardwood purlins and massive steel trusses, rises 20 feet above the ground.

In 2006, we purchased the building and grounds for the museum. I liked this building’s location and size, its age and history, and I particularly loved the high arched ceilings and steel bowstring trusses. Because I wanted the museum to be part of Danville’s preservation and tourism efforts, I was thrilled to find a historic building so close to downtown.

To create the museum, the building had to be gutted all the way to the block walls. A new architectural roof was erected on top. New plumbing, electric, heat and air-conditioning were installed, as well as walls, windows, bathrooms, doors with panic hardware, and a monitored fire-alarm system. The ceiling’s hardwood purlins and steel bowstring trusses were lovingly restored. Antique church lighting was added to enhance the sense of age, size, and warmth, while floors and walls were faux-finished to match the exhibits. With great help from John Flint of FRA Engineering, and many other wonderful contributors, the building met State Code standards and earned its Certificate of Occupancy in 2008.

The Great American Dollhouse Museum sits on two acres stretching from Sixth Street to Swope Drive in Danville, Kentucky. Over the past two years, the museum team has planted more than 200 trees, shrubs, and vines. The museum team plans to create a beautiful park that will enhance the museum experience and provide landscaped outdoor space for the enjoyment of the Danville community.

What's your favorite piece in the museum?
I love them all; I picked each one for the museum, so naturally they're all houses I adore! However, there are certain ones that touch me particularly. For example, there is a self-portrait room box of a Kentucky miniature artisan, Al Vereycken.

The miniature Vereycken sits in his contemporary workshop, complete with miniature saws and blades, tools of all kinds, paints, brushes, glues, and miniature piles of sawdust. He examines the Victorian dollhouse, about 3 inches in height, that he has just completed. Further into the Museum, the visitor will find the full size (3 feet in height) Victorian dollhouse created by Vereycken and shown in his roombox/self portrait. I have furnished his real dollhouse with German Victorian antiques, notably Schneegas items. Vereycken has passed away, but I like to believe he would be very pleased.

I try to balance fine artisan work with antique dollhouse pieces, and to make them function well together. I find that they enhance one another: the contrast between them serves to highlight each of their distinct kinds of beauty connection with their makers.

Learn more about the Museum at http://www.thedollhousemuseum.com/index.htm
You'll be amazed at the extent and the educational and entertainment value of the exhibits.


Ellen said...

This is how some of the most interesting museums start. Somebody wants lots of something they love, and goes for it. I got to be curator of such a museum for about a quarter of a century - The Bakken - which was founded when Earl Bakken, inventor of the wearable pacemaker, decided to collect medical electricity through the ages.

Heck, now that I'm retired, I'm writing a book about it.

Camille Minichino said...

I'm duly impressed, Ellen. How far along is that book project?

Betty Hechtman said...

The museum sounds like a labor of love. I would love to see it.

Ellen said...

Hard to say how far along the electricity book is. For one, I have some interesting articles on non-electrical subjects: medieval eyeglasses, the use of armor as orthopedic appliances in the Renaissance, phrenology in the 19th and 20th century ... I'd say maybe a third to a half finished.

I go back and forth on these things. But they're all related to the museum. My favorite essay so far can be found at


and the web site of The Bakken is to be found at

http://thebakken.org .

Ann Parker said...

Wow! This is very neat. I love the images... makes the miniatures "come to life!" :-)