Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Interiors of My Childhood

The assignment for Learning Creative Learning for week one is to write a piece about a childhood object that interested and influenced me.  The course syllabus provides many great examples of essays and the topic has provided rich food for thought for me this week.

Interiors of My Childhood

I received my doll house from my grandmother and with it the story of the bricks.  My grandfather stayed up all night one Christmas Eve painting those bricks on its two sides.  His daughter lived in a brick house so the dollhouse had to have bricks.  From the beginning this house bore the mark of care and making.
When I was in preschool my mom papered the rooms with wrapping paper and we put down washcloths for rugs on the wooden floors.  My first furniture was simple and clunky and easy for a young child to move and rearrange.  I had a wooden play ground and simple dolls, soft fabric with wire in the limbs making them easy to pose.
As I grew older, I began to collect additional furniture and miniatures to make the house more elaborate.  Around middle school, the house received a remodel.  The painted brick walls were preserved but the low triangular attic was replaced with a higher, flatter roof model, allowing for two rooms on the third floor and a rooftop garden.  I painted the walls, sanded and stained the wood floors and purchased special miniature print wall paper for the bedrooms.  
This was about the time the dollhouse shifted from a toy to a hobby.  I spent hours searching for the perfect furnishings and making accessories.  My first attempt at knitting became an a spread for a miniature bed, toothpaste caps filled with clay and a dried flower became potted plants.  I sewed Halloween costumes for the 7 children in the doll family and carefully cut tiny pieces of birthday candles to prop as crayons in the hands of doll children sitting at a table to color.  
Later I added lights with a small kit, learning along the way about blown fuses.  I once tried to pump water into the kitchen through clear tubing but it proved too much for the teaspoon size sink.  
By the time I was in high school, the doll house had moved from my bedroom workshop to a shelf in the family room.  I continued to decorate for the holidays and enjoyed showing it off even as I moved on to sports and other activities.  I remember once a comment that I really ought to go into interior design.  At the time I liked the compliment but did not pursue the idea much further.  Looking back I think it was much more about creating a living space for my characters.  Although I had moved beyond actively playing with my dolls I knew who they were by the things in their home - the knitting basket by the piano, the collection of miniature rocks and shells in the closet and the tiny crayon drawings by the doll people hung on the children's walls.  I was more interested in creating these details of living than in choosing just the right color combinations for the decor.
By college my dollhouse was carefully packed away.  I retrieved it from its boxes and rediscovered the tissue wrapped pieces as I began to use the dolls as subjects for paintings.  At first they played on the play ground equipment amid a landscape of building blocks.  Later they came to inhabit the house in paintings that combined still life, tableau and interior.  Posing and lighting my house to create a painting let me look on the scenes in a whole new way.  
Presently my dollhouse is once again in boxes and has been for over a decade.  I think of it more and more often as I work with young artists.  I own a small studio for children and families.  I get to design a space and invite creativity through the arrangement and offerings of materials.  The plants in the window, the clay drying on shelves and paintings pinned around the room reveal traces of the creative community that gathers here.  Lately a common theme in sculpture has been play sets for tiny toys.  I see myself in these children who craft careful objects and environments for small toys or lego people.  I love the comments about how a certain play set will be one-of-a-kind and delight in the inventive ways children create their own toy environments.

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