Did you know that the museum’s teeniest, tiniest rooms are tucked between two of the biggest? See the amber glow emanating from the dark portal behind the gothic cathedral? Let’s check it out!
The intimate, walnut-paneled Miniature Gallery sits in stark contrast to the huge, sky-lit Halls of Architecture and Sculpture on either side. Find your way into this hidden nook, and you’re rewarded with 11 luminous portals into wee worlds. Open to the public since 1969, the gallery was designed by Pittsburgh architect Delbert Highlands to house a collection of 350 diminutive objects donated by museum patron Sarah Mellon Scaife.
There are two types of rooms in the Miniature Gallery: reproductions and museum displays. This dining room is one of three reproductions that Mrs. Scaife commissioned around 1950. It was made by a New York gallery and interior decorator, French & Company, as a tiny copy of the actual dining room at Penguin Court, the Scaife residence in Ligonier, PA. Although it is impressively realistic, there are a few clues that the room is only a foot tall. Can you spot anything amiss?
(Hint: Look at the tilting chandelier and the huge embroidery stitches in the chair cushions.)
Other “rooms” in the Miniature Gallery are simply display cases, blank boxes built by the museum and filled with antique furnishings like these petite sideboards lined with silver plates, tankards, and sundry utensils. These miniscule objects were made in earlier centuries by the same artisans—cabinetmakers or silversmiths—who would have made their full-sized counterparts. Although they’re sometimes described as samples, they were likely toys—delightful trinkets made to delight adults as much as children.
Making miniature objects required skilled artisanal labor, employing the same techniques and materials (albeit in smaller quantities) as full-sized furnishings. And just in case you aren’t convinced that these are miniatures—here’s a No. 2 pencil for reference.
Next time you visit the museum, take a look at the incredible craftsmanship at an adorable scale!