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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Leicester House, a 16th century English Manor House

Richard G. Schurtz of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania built this house that I ordered in 1982 and he delivered in October, 1986. When Richard drove it to my home in New York State, he wouldn't let me in the room for an hour and a half while he was setting it up. He wanted to see my face when I walked in. I was awestruck, to say the least.

Publications: there is an article with photos of this house in International Dolls House News, Summer 1995 issue, pages 17-19. The magazine cover shows the Throne Room of Hampton Court from Barry and Carole Kaye's Miniature Museum. The second article featuring this house is the October 1998 issue of Miniature Collector, pages 18-23. This issue has another of my dolls houses on the cover, a deep green shop front with salmon colored trim, and says "Cover Story: Cookie Ziemba's Historical Houses. "

This typical Elizabethan Manor House is about 6 feet wide, 4 feet high and 18" deep. It is two stories high and has only six rooms that would be across the front of the Manor House. In my mind, it stretches way back, but you just can't see it! The lower floor is comprised of a Great Chamber on the left, a central Great Hall and a Winter Parlor or Solar (our modern day family room) on the right. The upper floor has his and her bedrooms and a minstrel's gallery.

A very strong belief I have in dolls housing: there is nothing more important than having large enough rooms, not only in width and depth, but most importantly, height. Being a six foot wide house, it could have had many rooms, but I chose spacious rooms, which give a greater feeling of air, room for furnishings and figures. The height of a normal room today would be 8" high if it were a contemporary house. In miniature, you must make that same room 10" because of the angle of viewing of an average human. We are looking down into it, in many cases. Even so, at any angle, some of the view gets cut off and they look squat and out of proportion. The rooms in this house are about 14" high, 24" wide and 18" deep. Thus, I have the spaciousness that I require.

In the early 1980's, I met Richard Shurtz at several miniature shows and saw his interest in Tudor history from his room boxes. I started talks with him about building a significant house and from our discussions and the architectural drawings he submitted to me, I could tell he was a Henrican scholar (Tudor). He was an expert in a vast variety of woods and told me there were over 100 types used in the house. I asked for a breakdown of the woods, but never did get it. He did make full size models of some of the paneling and ceiling details so I could see what he was producing. I flew to Pittsburgh once during construction to see what he had in the works. It was very important, and well worthwhile. I was able to keep up with his progress and add my own suggestions.

We wrote back and forth with extensive information that we both researched. Richard chose not to try to copy just one house but to encompass elements of three English manors, still extant today: Longleat, Montacute and Wollaton Hall. I never did get to visit Wollaton, but have been to both of the others. I was impressed with Longleat, but it is overwhelming and hard to relate to. Montacute, on the other hand, was THE most wonderful Tudor manor house I have ever seen.

Nutshell News requested a tour to my home to view my collection. Over 55 guests were there from several countries, including Sally Howard Smith of Wiltshire, England. I was talking with a group and mentioned my fear of driving in England, and Sally, a complete stranger, said "If you plan the itinerary, I will drive you anywhere!" I asked if she was serious and she was. We made plans to tour the English countryside the next spring. That was the start of a lovely friendship.

She took me to Montacute in Somerset, which I will never forget. It was a comfortable size and had a wonderful display of "English Band Samplers." These are different from the usual American cross stitch sampler that would have a central motif and pictures or designs around the outside. The band sampler is polychrome blocks of very ornate designs, used to record patterns to be used on clothing. I was a needleworker before I was a miniaturist, so this was perfect for me. I have since stitched two of these band samplers in full size from kits by and I highly recommend them if you like counted work. They look like blackwork although they are polychrome. I digressed, hard not to.

Some Elizabethan history - please forgive any errors, this is the way I remember it:

One of my cardinal rules in dolls housing is that I need to have a story connected to every dolls house, whether fictional or based on real people. I read many Tudor and Elizabethan histories and novels during the four years of construction. I feel using a major historic figure is a problem, there is so much known about them and no mystery, so I do like someone not as famous, but where there is at least some information available. I finally found an intriguing story and felt these would be my dolls house residents.

On a trip back to the airport from a week at the Guild School in Castine, Maine, I read an historic novel called "Passion's Reign" by Karen Harper. It is about Anne Boleyn's older sister, Mary Carey. The family interested me and I researched further reading about Mary's daughter, Catherine Carey, a favorite lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I. Continuing into the family records, I discovered Lettice Knollys, granddaughter to Mary Carey. I found Lettice to be fascinating, she became a rival to her cousin, Elizabeth I.

Queen Elizabeth's favorite gentlemen of the court was Robert Dudley. She and Dudley were both born on the same day, September 7, 1533 and were both imprisoned in the Tower of London at the same time when they were young. Upon her accession to the throne, she created Robert her Master of Horse. In her wily machinations, she sent Robert north to Scotland to try to marry her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. In order to have him more equal, she elevated him to the rank of Earl of Leicester. Queen Mary was outraged at Elizabeth's suggestion that she marry her Master of Horse, and promptly married Henry, Lord Darnley. Mary was more impetuous than Elizabeth who calculated every move. It turned out that Darnley was one of her bigger mistakes.

Dudley tried to marry Elizabeth but she would have no man ruling her, based on her mother, Anne Boleyn's experience with her father, King Henry VIII. When Dudley finally was convinced Elizabeth would never marry him, he was determined to have an heir and thus needed a wife. His first wife, Amy Robsart, fell down a flight of stairs and died. He was accused of her death but was exonerated. In more recent times, Amy was found to have breast cancer and her bones were very brittle, so the fall really did kill her. The odd part was that she dismissed all her servants on that day and was alone in the house.

He set his sites on Lettice Knollys and secretly married her. When Elizabeth discovered this treacherous marriage, she threw Dudley into the Tower and later forgave him. She swore never to speak with Lettice again, and nearly succeeded.

Dudley still served and courted Elizabeth and she granted him a governorship in Holland. Lettice practically held court in Holland, the Dutch even thought she was queen of England! Elizabeth had Dudley return to England and he was involved in the Spanish Armada. He sickened during that war and Elizabeth stayed at his side, but he died in 1588. She kept a miniature portrait of him by her bedside for the rest of her life.

An the 1980's, items from British museums were on display at the National Gallery in Washington, DC including Robert's actual sword, Elizabeth's hand knitted hose and gloves and the aforementioned miniature portrait. I wept when I saw these pieces, especially the miniature.

Lettice was the mother (from a previous marriage to Walter Devereux) of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, who became another of Elizabeth's favorites. He was 34 years her junior and burst into her room whilst she had no wig on (she was nearly bald from always wearing coarse wigs). He planned an uprising against Elizabeth and for his troubles, she had him beheaded. Lettice went to plead with Elizabeth for her son's life but to no avail.

Robert and Lettice only produced one son during their brief marriage, another child named Robert, the little Lord Denbigh. He died at five years of age and his casket is near his parents at Beauchamp Chapel in St. Mary's Collegiate Church, Warwick and says "The Noble Impe" on it. I have an empty cradle in Lettice's room with his "bells and coral" hanging from it. The bells (a rattle) also holds a piece of coral which the baby sucked on, an early pacifier. Also in the room is a 16th century baby walker! There really is nothing new!

Description of dolls house and its contents:

The Great Hall has two figures, one of Queen Elizabeth and the other of Robert Dudley, Lord Leicester. I costumed these two Sylvia Mobley dolls and along with another figure of Lettice Knollys, I submitted them to the Guild (I.G.M.A.) for judging for Artisan status. I received this honor in costuming a number of years ago; a very proud moment.

Queen Elizabeth is wearing a black velvet gown that I embroidered with real gold, held down with gold silk couching thread and real bullion (curled gold wire) and pearls. Robert wears rust colored velvet and has a sword of Toledo steel in his sheath. His hose are from a pair of my own hose. They both have real feathers in their hats and her pearl earrings are hung from her hair, not the ears, which is authentic.

There are oil portraits of Lettice Knollys and Robert Dudley hanging on either side of the two figures. I commissioned Melissa Wolcott Martino to paint them based on the original historic portraits. We used very clear photos of the full size paintings for Melissa to copy and she submitted these portraits to achieve her I.G.M.A. Fellow status.

Wes Hart, a former jewelry maker, produced silver pieces for this gallery; a mace, a German halberd, an Elizabethan Ceremonial Sword chased with gold, a Saxon axe, a Linstock halberd and a breast plate with crossed halberds behind. Elizabeth McInnis of Mere Trifles made the 12 point Elk head hanging on the wall.

David Sciacca made the pair of suits of armor with opening visors as well as all the breast plates and swords that hang on the back wall above in the

In the Minstrels gallery, Robert Olszewski made a bronze sculpture of an eagle on the balcony. Ken Manning of British Columbia made the 16th c. Bass Viol by Amati and the fret work music stand is by Geoffrey Bishop of California. His brass flute lies across the music rest. A chair from the Butterfly Collection of the Hummel Collection supports Linda Norman's Dulcimer and Mandolin. She also made the brass trumpet under the music stand.

The Great Chamber (lower left side of ground floor)

The large refectory table is by George Passwaters and the six dining chairs are by Denis E.W. Hillman of England. The 3 tiered open shelf court cupboard is by Colin Bristow of Norfolk, U.K. The dummy board of an Elizabethan child is from Brian Long and the servant girl, named "Dorcas," is by Jill Bennett of Bath. On the table top stands a posset pot by Lee Ann Chellis Wessel, a silver Lion Double Cup by Pete Acquisto and a pair of ceramic salt sellars, which were a gift from Frank Hanley and Jeff Gueno at Le Chateau Interiors because they so much admired this house. A large dish by Le Chateau Interiors hangs above the fireplace with the figure of a man painted on it.

I commissioned Judith Drury to paint my favorite portrait of Elizabeth known as the "Rainbow Portrait." The original hangs in Hatfield House and when Judith was visiting it, a descendant of Lettice Knollys was also there and questioned her about her miniature of Lettice. The painting has eyes and ears all over the gown to represent that Elizabeth heard and saw all. The rainbow represents peace. Another painting over the open court cupboard is after Rembrandt and is known as "The Centurion Cornelius." A watercolor of the Madonna della Sedia after Raphael is by Marjorie Adams.

Beneath The Rainbow Portrait is a very special piece. It is known as a Standing Livery Cupboard and is a closed court cupboard by Ivan Turner of Bristol. When I first met Ivan, I asked him to make me a piece of furniture, I would have been happy with anything he chose to make. He refused and I found out that he planned to make a collection of furniture to be donated to England's National Trust and would sell nothing to anyone.

A few years later after he read about my Elizabethan house in the International Dolls House News, he sent me a proposal of several pieces he would be willing to make! He saw that this was a seriously researched piece and felt it was something he would be pleased to work with. I was, of course, thrilled. He submitted three pieces, one a court cupboard but I wasn't happy with the details of that one. With all my previous research I knew just what motifs I wanted and I wrote back to him with the changes I would like and held my breath, hoping he wouldn't be offended. He brought my design changes to Mr. Victor Chinnery who wrote the "bible" on oak furniture, "Oak Furniture, The British Tradition," and my ideas were approved, so Ivan was happy to incorporate them.

It may look a little strange to our modern eyes as we are used to seeing Tudor furniture in the blackest woods. They all started out as light oak straight from the tree and turned dark over hundreds of years of smoke exposure and time. So that is what we see here. Ivan is the master of marquetry and it is a superb piece, even down to the working lock. He gave me two keys to it, in case I lost one. He carved his signature in the bottom of the piece in the style that was used in Elizabeth's time. It has his initials and mine and shows that it was made in the 45th year of the reign of Elizabeth II. He gave the piece to me in a presentation box made out of a 400 year old church pew.

The written documentation Ivan supplied with it was extraordinary. It is a small book with copies of the architectural drawing of all the elements of the cupboard on graph paper, with written descriptions labeling parts and makes the piece very special indeed.

A foot note to this project...As I said earlier, Ivan would not accept money since he does not sell his work. He asked me to make a donation to his church for improvements on the roof or to the local ambulance corp. Somehow, the church roof appealed to me more and that is where I made my donation!

The Winter Parlor or Solar is across the Great Hall on the lower right side and the figure of Lettice's mother, Catherine Carey, stands near the table. She is another Sylvia Mobley doll that I dressed in green with silver trimming. A Melissa Wolcott Martino oil painting of a Young Girl with Dog after Loenan hangs behind her. An alms chest by David Hurley is beneath a oil portrait of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's 4th wife, by Melissa Wyatt. In the center of the room is a trestle table by Norman Jones with matching chairs has a Keshishian rug laying at an angle which is typical for the use of rugs at the time. They were too expensive to use on the floor of a room to be worn out with foot traffic. A pair of Majolica portrait urns are on either side of the fireplace made by Le Chateau Interiors and I made the basket of grapes at a workshop with Heidi Stutz in Philadelphia years ago. A Jacobean bench is by John Otewill of Canada. Yatri Bourse of Rosie Duck made the copy of Anthony Andrews Rolls of 1549, recording the 46 ships of Henry VIII's navy, here the "Great Harry" and the "Rose Slype."

The tester bed in Lady Leicester's Bed Chamber was made by Colin Bristow using typical cup and cover pilasters. I embroidered the coverlet using crewel techniques although it is stitched with one strand of cotton floss because even the thinnest wools available would be too bulky. The pattern is an overall one used during the period in England. At the foot of the bed is a metal strapped traveling wood chest by Tom Latane. Lady Leicester, another Sylvia Mobley figure, is holding a basket of flowers by Hope Elliott. The Tudor cradle by Carl Gustafson is next to a Warren Dick four legged stool. A Dutch wooden linen press stands in the corner.

I made the red velvet bed hangings for the Warren Dick tester bed in Lord Leicester's Bed Chamber. There is an old gilt covered metal match box in the shape of a round topped trunk at the foot of the bed that has a chastity belt and key by Ray Sherwood inside! A Cromwellian chair with metal studs by Bill Whiting is covered in figured leather is across the room and a Great Dane sits in front of the fireplace awaiting his master's return.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

My early dolls house collection

Over the last 32 years, I have had 8 dolls houses created for me by some of the best makers in the business, both in the United States and England.

My collection started off with a semi-commercial house made by "My Uncle in Fryeburg, Maine." Nope, he wasn't really my uncle, his name was Albert Eaton and he made wooden houses in two styles, one a farmhouse style 2 story house and the other was a Cape Cod. I got the farmhouse style which was delivered with a basic finish of white paint overall and a forest green painted roof. I finished the rest of the decorations, wallpapering using fabrics which I dipped in tea to darken, where necessary.

When I got the house, I realized I wanted to create a story for it so I would know who lives there and how it should be decorated. I loved the TV program of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," most especially, I loved the actor, Edward Mulhare, who starred in it. That show was the basis for my dolls house residents. Initially, I didn't like the miniature dolls I was seeing at the shows but finally felt the house was missing something without the human presence. Then after I started collecting dolls, I went a little overboard and bought lots of them.

I bought some dolls to represent the family and dressed them appropriately as Captain Gregg and Mrs. Muir, the housekeeper and Mrs. Muir's daughter. Mrs. Muir wears a length of old hand made pulled work that is simply wrapped and sewn around her.

Other dolls have visited them over the years, but they are the full time residents. As I made additional dolls, a bride is in the dining room and a doll in a lovely yellow silk Victorian dress talking with her. I created the doll in the yellow silk from porcelain after learning doll making from Sylvia Lyons and dressed her at a class with Marty Saunders at the IGMA Guild School in Castine, Maine in the mid-1980's.

The Guild School is a wonderful experience and I cannot encourage you enough that it is well worth going if you enjoy making things. More on that in later postings.