People have long been fascinated by the detail and precision with which very small artworks can be made. The Thorne Miniature Rooms are examples of this fascination for the world in miniature. At an exacting scale of one inch to the foot, several of the rooms replicate actual rooms found in the United States and Europe, while the remainder faithfully depict the architecture and interior design of their periods and countries.
These rooms were conceived, designed and in large part created by Narcissa Niblack Thorne (1882-1966). An Indiana native, Thorne began to collect miniature furniture and household accessories during her travels to England and the Far East shortly after the turn of the 20th century.
Beginning in 1930, Thorne devised the ingenious scheme of having these interiors made to hold her growing collection of miniature objects. Many of the rooms are exact replicas of existing houses in the United States and Europe. The remaining rooms faithfully depict the architecture and interior design of their periods and countries. Made at a scale of 1:12 (one inch in the room equals one foot in real life), some of the rooms even contain period-style rugs Thorne had woven specifically for each space. Mrs. Thorne and the craftsmen she worked with completed nearly 100 rooms. Her hope was that perfectly proportioned rooms in miniature could substitute for costly and space-consuming full-scale period rooms that museums across the country were beginning to acquire.
The original thirty Thorne Miniature Rooms were displayed at the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress Exposition and they gained national attention when featured in a 1940 LIFE magazine article. Twenty of the original thirty rooms were given to a fledgling Phoenix Art Museum in 1962, and have been on view here ever since. The rest are in the Art Institute of Chicago (68), the Knoxville Museum of Art (9), The Indianapolis Childrens Museum (1), and the Kaye Miniature Museum in Los Angeles (1).