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An Heiress’s Dollhouse Collection

An obsession with all things miniature can happen to anyone of either gender, wealthy or poor. However, if you want to be able to pursue a love of dollhouses it can help if you happen to be fabulously wealthy. The famous heiress Huguette Clark, the daughter of William A. Clark who made his millions in copper, loved dollhouses to the tune of spending $80,000 for one dollhouse. Referred to as slightly bonkers and childlike because of her all absorbing interest in dollhouses, Huguette poured all her energy and passion in to her miniature homes, something most dollhouse enthusiasts and miniaturists could identify with.

Bill Dedman, an investigative reporter who recently profiled the life of Huguette Clark in his book Empty Mansions, realized that to Huguette her dollhouses were not just miniature toys but “historical art projects.” Growing up in a Fifth Avenue home that contained 121 rooms and 30 bathrooms, it might make sense that William Clark’s daughter would want to create a world that was a little more manageable in size.

One of the most famous of her dollhouses was a Japanese miniature home used an authentic type of cedar that had always been reserved for imperial Japanese buildings. In order to use it, Huguette asked and received permission from the government of Japan. Several of Huguette’s dollhouses or miniatures were versions of Japanese temples, and homes. She had an abiding interest in Japan and its culture and employed famous Japanese artisans to ensure that the buildings would be historical and culturally correct. Her other love was of children stories. She replicated in miniature stories such as Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin and Sleeping Beauty using artists from Germany to bring the stories to life in dollhouse size.

Though reclusive in nature, Huguette was demanding of the artisans that worked on her dollhouse collection. She was determined that every detail be correct and measured every item to ensure that they were to scale. If an item arrived that wasn’t perfect it was returned until it met her approval.

Unfortunately, her dollhouse collection has not been made public as it appears to be as tangled up in estate issues as was her homes after her death at 104. According to author Bill Dedman, the dollhouses could eventually make their way to a museum. It is to be hoped they will as the little that is known about them and the work that went into them makes it possible they may be some of the most historically accurate and beautifully made dollhouses in history.

Photo courtesy of The Estate of Huguette M. Clark, from the book Empty Mansions authored by Bill Dedman.

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