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Museum Visit Sparks Memories Of Childhood Dollhouse

On my fourth birthday, my grandfather gave me a dollhouse. It was a yellow, two-floor house that he built in his basement workshop in Kansas City, Kan. The dollhouse had six rooms and came with an assortment of handmade furniture, painted floors and wallpaper in nearly every room.

I was thrilled by the gift and I played with the dollhouse, constantly moving my dolls from room to room, creating little dramas in my young mind. My dolls talked on the tiny rotary phone, ate breakfast in the kitchen and slept in their neatly-appointed bedrooms.

One day, I decided that I needed to clean the floor, so I reached for my toothbrush and a can of Comet under the bathroom sink. Not knowing that the abrasion and bleach might have a detrimental effect, I scrubbed away and, to my absolute horror, I scratched off some of the paint.

My heart sank.

I began to notice the other damage I'd done in my play. I'd swung a few of the doors off their hinges and a window pane or two had been knocked out. I was too afraid to tell anyone about damage I'd done and for years I felt guilty.

I still loved the dollhouse, but after that day I noticed all of the hard work that my grandfather had done to build the house. In my play, I’d taken all that work for granted. 

Until recently, I'd not given the dollhouse much thought. But when I was reporting for KCUR on the Coleman dollhouse at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, I found myself sharing my story with Museum Educator Laura Taylor.

"But dollhouses are educational toys, and you learned," Taylor said after hearing my story about the Comet.

Hearing her words made me felt better immediately, and when I got home I went to to hallway where my dollhouse had sat for years in my parents' house. I pulled the house out and looked at the floor. The damage was not as bad as I'd remembered.

And after seeing so many other dollhouses at the museum, I had much a greater appreciation for the objects that my grandfather chose to include. With new eyes, I looked at the television, the piano and the neat little refrigerator.

It was a small snapshot of the 1970s and for a few minutes I was transported.

I'd learned so many things from the many hours I spent guiding my dolls through the rooms of my dollhouse. And it was a relief to finally understand that my grandfather never intended for me to put my dollhouse on a pedestal.

Learning was the object and that was why he spent so many hours adding so many details to, what was back then, a modern home.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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