The Museum of Wisconsin Art's doll house had its origin in Milwaukee. Walter A.
Zinn, the president and chairman of the Zinn Malting Company, began building
this doll house for his daughter, Lenore, in 1911 for her fifth birthday. Mr.
Zinn added on rooms each year until his death in 1957. It began with four rooms
and eventually developed into the 27 room mansion with its elaborate garden,
balcony and front yard, as we see it today.
Approximately 1,200 miniature items were constructed and collected to furnish
the rooms of this doll house. Artifacts were collected on trips throughout
the United States, Europe and Mexico.
Family members, relatives and friends all became involved in some facet of
the Zinn doll house. Mrs. Zinn designed and made the majority of items which
included the grand piano, woven rugs, and light fixtures. Mrs. Zinn even
created and wrote the story for the house, "The Sam R. J. Swepet Family",
which stood for the initials of all her grandchildren. An aunt, Mrs. Andrew
Pick of West Bend, painted the tiny Holy Hill landscape which stands on the
easel in the studio. Lenore's cousins, Melitta and Joan Pick, made the easels
and wire sculptures on the walls and tables of the doll house, and the photographs
are actual pictures of the Zinn family members.
During the holiday seasons in November and December, the Zinn family would
spend many happy hours assembling their "Christmas room" which housed
the elaborately decorated doll house set in a miniature Christmas village setting.
It is important to note that this doll house was only on display during the
holiday season and stored away the rest of the year.
The floor loom in the craft room of the Walter A. Zinn dollhouse serves as
an excellent example to illustrate a point. This loom not only looks
real, but actually works with its strung warp threads and harnesses.
This miniature loom may help to explain why antique doll houses are given space
in some of the world's finest museums. The loom is not only a small work
of art in itself, but a precise miniature copy of a life-size floor loom.
The Walter A. Zinn doll house was a core of family joy, unity and tradition,
and serves as an excellent example of miniature artistic mastery.
Some of the special artifacts collected are:
- Iron Furniture Pieces - in family room - collected by Great Grandmother
Marr, mid 1800's.
Sewing Machine - Germany 1890
Silverware and Service - Arizona Indians
Powder Dish - Paris, France, copy of Marie Antoinette's, 1927.
China Tea Set - Paris France, copy of Josephine de Beau Haranis, 1927.
China Mice - New York
Cupboard - Japan
Shoes - Sweden
Spinning Wheel - wool from sheep at Happy Hill Orchard near Hartford, Wisconsin
Tapestry - Metropolitan Museum, New York
Wash Set - six pieces, Paris, France, copies of Napoleon, 1927
Crucifix - Toledoware, Spain
Jeweled Wall Clock - New York
Silk Folding Screen - Japan
Two Salt Cellars - silver, New Orleans
Paintings - Purchased in Uffizi and Pitti Palaces, Florence, Italy
Wrought Iron Metal Work - created by Mr. Cyril Colnik, Milwaukee
Four Special Plates - antique shop, Paris, France
Historians disagree on the origin of the doll house. Most, however, tend to
believe that the traditional doll house had its beginnings in Germany. This
information is not to say that earlier toy furnishings have not been found. New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has a tiny Egyptian folding doll bed that
is several thousand years old. If these dolls had furnishings, it is a probably
assumption that they had houses of some sort. One day an archeologist may
uncover the remains of a doll house in an ancient Greek, Roman, or Egyptian tomb.
Until that reality occurs, we must go with the earliest evidence of a German doll
house made in 1558. This doll house was custom made by a court box maker for
the daughter of the Bavarians Duke Albrecht V, over 425 years ago.
The earliest American doll house seems to be the one in an old New York mansion,
now the Van Cortlandt Museum. It is believed to be the only American doll
house that is older than the United States itself. This is not surprising,
since the colonists had other things on their minds than toys for the children.
Besides, many of them were Puritans who did not believe in elaborate playthings.
In 1744, this doll house was made for a member of a Boston family named Homans.
It then was inherited by the Greenough family of Long Island who gave it, many generations
later, to the Van Cortlandt Museum.