Proud to be an Artisan Member of the International Guild of Miniature Artisans, IGMA

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rye Street, a Dickensian street scene, c. 1837

"Rye Street" had its beginnings with an ad for an antique painting in The Magazine Antiques. The painting was similar in style to William Powell Frith, a mid-Victorian English artist who I have long admired. I don’t know the name of the artist or of the painting itself, but I was in love with the picture and wanted to own it very badly.

(This view is in the corner of my bedroom and I stitched the two pictures above. On the left is an Elizabethan stumpwork design and on the right is a blackwork embroidery stitched in burgundy thread. I was honored to have this piece appear in the book, "Blackwork" by Mary Gostelow.)

I wrote to the advertiser, N.R. Omell Gallery on Duke Street in the heart of the West End in London, asking for a photo and they sent a transparency measuring 5” x 7.” When held against a light, it glowed with life and showed a group of people in the street crowding around the window of a store, staring in at a painting on display. We, the viewer, never see the object of their admiration, but their looks of awe and wonderment transported me into my very vivid imagination. Along with the transparency came the quote for the painting and I did not pursue it any further, being quite out of my range.

I always kept the transparency safe and finally had copies printed. I wanted a miniature shop made with the view of the inside of a store looking out through the front window. The figures in the street would be looking in. I didn’t try to commission anything similar; it was just a dream until one day in June 1997, I received a copy of an English miniature magazine that showed a street scene of a courtyard with two shops and the façade of a third. It was made by Vic Newey in Warwickshire, England. Within moments, I was on the telephone calling Vic and his child answered the telephone. The family was amazed that a woman from New York was calling about a dolls house! He was at the beginning of his miniature building career and had no idea of the lengths miniaturists go in order to find the perfect piece. Now, years later, he accepts all the strange whims miniaturists have with world-wide commissions.

After assuring Vic that the call probably would not cost more than $5.00, we discussed the street scene. He was a former film and TV set designer and wanted to change careers because of back problems. He felt his full size methods were applicable to miniatures and was able to produce the most wonderful antiquing effects. Over the phone, we settled on details of the street, customizing it to my requirements and I traveled to the Miniatura fair in Birmingham, England in September 1997 to meet. I purchased most of the lighting fixtures necessary from Wood 'n Wool Miniatures, except for the double armed street lamp, which is by Scott's Lighting. I sent it over to Vic to be installed.

Views of Mr. Asquith's Antiquarian Bookshop and courtyard
While Vic and his wife, Jennifer, were working on the street, I was trying to decide the kind of shops I wanted. Using my own interests as a start, I determined that the left side of the street would be dedicated to Mr. Asquith's Antiquarian Books on the ground lfoor and Miss Merrivale's Academy for Young Ladies upstairs.

The two women and little boy are my version of the people "crowding around the window looking inside," in this case, at an open volume of Shakespeare, showing an etching of his face.

Miss Merrivale's Academy for Young Ladies
Most of the figures in the school and in the street are by JDesigns. The young lady is painting oils with a boxed set by Rosie Duck, and her sister is stitching needlework near the window. Their instructress is standing at the table, working on a tapestry frame.

Interior of Mr. Asquith's Antiquarian Books
The bookshop is modeled after one I visited in Salisbury, England, not far from the Cathedral. I’ve heard the shop is gone now, so this is my homage. Mr. Asquith, by Sunday Dolls, has added prints, maps and a few antiques to his shop. The huge bookcase on the left side is by Carl Isabelle and has a working clock inset on the top. The Tudor style refectory table is by Norman Jones. A number of the printed books are by Barbara Raheb, including “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” and “Great Expectations” both by Charles Dickens. Jason Getzan made the wood and brass cane that Mr. Asquith is holding. It was a challenge acquiring the many books to fill the shelves.

Three of the books on the table in front of Mr. Asquith are by Barbara Brear, a maker of miniature books, who lives near Capetown, South Africa. At the time, I didn't know Barbara, but she knew that articles on my collection appear from time to time in British and American magazines. She sent an email wanting to gift me with three of her books in the hopes that they would get into a publication. Shortly after they arrived, they did appear in Miniature Collector and Mr. Asquith is reading her open book in the photos, the other two are also on the table.

Several years later, Barbara was chosen to be a recipient of an IGMA scholarship to the Guild School at Castine, Maine. Barbara again contacted me to see if I would be at Castine, but as I wasn't going, I invited her to visit me at my home. We had a lovely visit together and she taught me the art of bookbinding and decorating china.

Redman & Son, Ironmonger's
On the right side of the street, is Redman & Son, Ironmonger’s, (a hardware store to Americans). Mr. Redman, wearing his traditional leather apron, is happily checking the day’s receipts while Mrs. Redman is dusting the merchandise. Sir Tom Thumb made many of the tools, pewter is by Jim Ison, Harmony Forge, Olde Mountain Miniatures, pottery by Jane Graber and Debbie Coyle and Joan Howard made wooden items.

Miss Upshot's room
Renting a room above the Redman's shop, Miss Evelyn Upshot, a single lady, is preparing her evening meal. Her incorrigible parrot, Timmy, regularly embarasses her with his colorful phrases and curses. He was taught to speak by a Cockney seaman and she tries to keep his dicey language under control, may I say, unsuccessfully. She is at her wit’s end!

Courtyard and the Clockmaker's
The shop façade in the middle of the scene is Samuel and Co., the Clockmaker’s Shop. Mrs. Samuel, the proprietor’s wife, looking out the upper window, is trying to chase away the rag picker who is slightly daft and cackles loudly the day long. The skivvy is giving the stoop its' daily scrubbing. Mrs. Samuel is also observing the two young urchins near the vegetable cart, the younger one is about to pinch a peach, while her sister lectures her about the sins of stealing.
When the crate containing the street arrived at my house in the spring of 1998, I was devastated to find one of the frosted glass globes was broken. The fragments were lying on the floor and I feel the crate was opened by customs agents who broke the globe. Instead of trying to break the lamp out of the stone ground to have it repaired, I added a street urchin holding a rock with the broken glass all around him. My overly zealous cleaning lady eventually dusted the broken shards of glass away!

At the side of the Ironmongers, a cat looks on trying to figure the best way to catch the rats hovering around the piles of grain and feed.

Once I had received the scene, the Rye Historical Society in Westchester County, New York contacted me and I was asked to put it on their Christmas display. I never put a dolls house together so quickly! I had to get it ready in a few short weeks, have it brought over and set up in no time at all. Never again!

While on display, a woman came by and said it looks just like a street in the town of Rye, England, and I kept the name from her observation.


Anne said...

The street of shops is just amazing. Your eye for decorating a period piece is unerring.
When I noticed the broken globe I thought you had probably taken advantage of an accident. It really adds to the ambiance, especially since you have the fabulous rag picker nearby.
You've provided so many detailed photos and credited the artisans. We miniaturists are always anxious to see everything up close so I appreciate the wonderful photos.

Silke Janas-Schloesser said...

I´m overwhelmed ! Speachless ! How wonderful this house was build and decorated every little detail ! Congrats to such a treasure !!!