52 Ancestors – #10 – Miniatures, My Mom and Me – Doris Lichtenthal Falcone

This is post is a departure from my usual family history posts. March 5, 2014 would have been my mother’s 82nd birthday. Mom’s legacy lives on in many ways in our family; her cooking, her humor (well….WE think it’s funny), her incessant picture-taking (very much appreciated by this genealogist daughter!) But there was one special thing Mom passed on to me that was not really shared with my siblings (except for maybe my youngest sister…) – her love of dollhouse miniatures.

Today’s post focuses on one of my mother’s favorite hobbies. Warning – it’s a long one!!

As far back as I can remember, Mom did crafty stuff – sewing, painting, fixing broken toys. There wasn’t a lot of money so perhaps her “craftiness” was born out of necessity. My first “dollhouse” memory was a large house she created out of cardboard boxes for my Barbie doll – the furniture was fashioned out of smaller cardboard boxes and thread spools. I loved it. 

1964 Store Display

1964. That year, Ideal Toy Company created a new line of dollhouse furniture – Petite Princess – OMG! It was beautiful! It was expensive! Mom would take me to Sears and Woolworth’s and we would drool over the tiny pieces, decorated with real satins and velvets showcased in a “real” princess castle. The next year, Ideal changed the name to Princess Patti and added more pieces. Still…..expensive. Apparently we weren’t the only family who couldn’t afford the furniture. By 1966, Ideal stopped producing the line and the pieces were marked down significantly. We went crazy!!! Bought it all!! 

My PP house 

Mom bought my first REAL dollhouse to contain all my pieces. There were so many, I actually hung a third floor inside the house to make more rooms.

We were hooked..

We discovered miniatures was an actual, respectable hobby. We found out there were actual stores selling dollhouse miniatures. We found out there were miniature shows. We experienced empty wallets.

The first shop we found was “The Crafty Owl Shop” run by Hazel Smith. Hazel had a little dollhouse museum in her shop – it cost 25 cents to enter. Except for the smell of cigarette smoke that lingered in the air it was one our favorite places to go on the weekends.

We also enjoyed visiting Bev Finley’s home. Bev ran “Colonial Pine Miniatures” out of her front room.

The Yield House
(Don’t say a word about my outfit…it’s become a family joke!)
In 1973, for my 18th birthday, Mom bought me my first 1” scale house. The Yield House saltbox house was massive – 96 pounds!

We began attending miniature shows. In those days there were at least two a year in our area. The first one I remember was in 1976.
1976 show sponsored by
“The Crafty Owl”

Roberta Glidden  (dark hair) behind the counter
at her shop “The Storekeepers”

Amazingly, one local promoter, Roberta Glidden, held her spring shows the first Saturday in March. It became a tradition for me to take Mom to the show for her birthday.

In 1976, Mom built her first house using a pattern found in a Woman’s Day magazine.  She quickly followed that with a General Store built using the same pattern.

1976 – My mother’s first house – my sister Betsy looks on

General Store – built for my brother
A bit worse for the wear after 30+ years
Partial Interior of the General Store

By that time, I was 21 years old and busy starting my teaching career. Mom and I kept attending shows together but I wasn’t too involved in doing anything else miniature-wise. Not Mom.

The Yellow House – approx. 40″ tall

Somewhere between 1978 and 1980 Mom and her best friend, Emma decided it was time to build themselves proper dollhouses. Mom was maybe 47 – her youngest child (of 5) was 15. Seemed like a good idea. She and Emma enrolled in a woodworking class at the local Adult Ed center. They lasted 2 classes. Mom said, “I can figure out the rest of it myself.” And she did – for months the entire living room was taken up with balsa wood, tools and paint.  The “Yellow House” was born. From then on the Yellow House had a prominent place in the living room.

Money still being tight, Mom made most of the items for the house. I bought the “Real-Life” Furniture kits and built most of the furniture. Mom was making tiny books (1000s of them), tiny foods out of Fimo clay, framing pictures cut from magazines, lamps from Ping-Pong balls and deodorant containers. One thing about my mother – if one was good, one-hundred was better! 

One of our first shows together.
Mom’s head is cut off in the photo -oops!

In 1980, we decided to share her work at some local shows. Not the “real” dollhouse miniature shows – those were too expensive. We did several local women’s’ club craft shows and a few school Christmas Fairs. People loved Mom’s work. It wasn’t “artisan” quality, but that wasn’t her goal. She wanted to sell to children and priced her work accordingly -10 cents for a picture, 75 cents for a lamp made from beads.  She was having a ball. We
named our company “Dorette Creations” in honor of Mom’s parents. [From 1940 -1950, my grandparents owned D’Orette Linens – named for my mother of course. My grandmother created and sold placemats made from a new and unique woven plastic fabric called Plexon. The story of this company will be the subject of a future post.]

My eldest daughter playing in Omi’s Yellow House – 1987

A gift for my daughters from their Omi – 1997 (pre-fire)

“A Gift from Omi”

In 1995, Mom decided to build another house, this time for my two daughters, aged 10 and 6. She purchased an Artply kit, “The Granville.” In late June of 1997 (I also inherited the procrastination gene from my mother…) we moved the almost finished dollhouse to our home. Then, on June 30 we had a house fire. While the house (dollhouse that is; our house lost the top floor) wasn’t destroyed, it suffered significant damage from smoke and movement by construction workers. Mom’s gift to her granddaughters sat for 16 years. But I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. 

The “Hoarder House” today – a work in progress

Last year, I decided to finish the house in memory of my mother who passed away in December of 2011. I’ve named it the “Hoarder House”. It’s decorated to reflect my mother’s tastes (blue onion wallpaper) and filled with objects that mirror her hobbies – stamp and coin collecting, sewing, dollhouses, toys…lots of toys. I’m temporarily stalled on that project but you can view my blog chronicling myprogress to date. I know Mom would be really happy to know I plan to finish what she had started.

Mom at the Sturbridge show chatting with the late Tom Berkner
Two of Mom’s best friends:
Emma and Barbara – 1990s??

In 2009 I created a room box which I presented to Mom for Easter that year. I won the room box at one Roberta Glidden’s shows years before. The “Tea Cozy” was built to house Mom’s collection of wire wicker furniture and tea sets. Mom loved tea sets. She had dozens of them. I think her affinity for the tiny sets (and maybe toys in general) may have originated with the loss of her toys as a child. 

Mom’s collection of Reutter Porzellan kitchen items and her beloved tea sets

Close-up of bay window
The valance is a piece of lace from a blouse that belonged to
my great-grandmother Sophie.

In 1938 Mom, her mother and her beloved grandmother fled Vienna, Austria as Hitler’s reign was terrorizing the city. As Jews, her father’s family business had been “sold” to Hitler’s “representatives” and her father imprisoned. 

At age 6, Mom found herself in a new country. Thankfully her father was released in 1939 and the family was reunited. However, trauma such as that never truly goes away. Over the years, Mom would often speak about the toys she had to leave behind

The “Tea Cozy”
Jumping back to 1965 for a moment. Our mutual love for that Ideal dollhouse furniture resulted in my writing book about the furniture line with co-author Linda Gant. Mom joined me at a 2010 miniature show to help me promote the “The Complete Reference Guide to Ideal’s 1964 and 1965 Petite Princess and Princess Patti Dollhouse Furniture.” 

Mom “manning” the table at the 2010 Danbury Miniature Show 

Mom in NYC!
We went to the 2004 IGMA miniature show

It would be one of the last mini-events we shared together. Mom had many health problems and by 2011 she was on dialysis three times a week. By November 2011 she was again in the hospital and on Dec. 2, 2011 my mother passed away surrounded by her all children except me – I was in the hospital parking lot on my way to see her. (That’s a story for another day.)

I miss my mother. I think of her every day. I thank her for the gift she gave me – the love of dollhouse miniatures. When I work on my “minis” I feel as though she is with me. It was something we bonded over. It is something that will bind my heart with hers forever.

I love you Mom.

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