New Tiny Treasures at WDS in 2018

Miniature Buttolph House

Those with a passion for a rare find and an eye for exquisite detail are invited to view what’s new in the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum (WDS) collection as the 2018 season begins. WDS Executive Director Charles Lyle points out several tiny treasures, and a couple of restored favorites, recently added throughout the museum’s three historic homes. From portraits to porcelain, the new acquisitions hail from periods ranging from the 18th to the early 20th centuries.

dollhouse interiorAmong the acquisitions is a remarkable dollhouse modelled after the historic 1711 Buttolph-Williams House, which stands on Broad Street, in Wethersfield. Found by the side of a road, the doll house was dropped off at WDS for safe keeping. The handcrafted dwelling includes charming details: miniature Early American furniture, tiny corn-husk dolls, and miniature windows that mimic the leaded panes of the historic structure on which it is modeled, located just two blocks away. The lighted house even includes a tiny spinning wheel, and a miniature musket that will be replaced above one of the mantels once restoration by WDS guide Tammy Denease has been completed. A closer look at the beds reveals mattresses made from kitchen sponges. *Note: The Buttolph-Williams House is managed by WDS for Connecticut Landmarks.

A charming 19th-century child’s pull toy, in outstanding condition, is also new for 2018. Featuring a cat beating a drum, the figure will be added to the sizable toy collection in the Stevens House, where the second floor is devoted to childhood in the 19th century. The WDS toy collection includes children’s portraits, dolls, doll clothing, and other doll houses, games, and tin and iron toys.

wax jack

The much-loved portraits of Silas Deane and Elizabeth Saltonstall Deane in the front parlor of the Deane House have been newly conserved, with brilliant results. Noting that varnish ages and yellows over time, WDS Curator Rich Malley explains the necessity of stripping off the old varnish, which had cracked and yellowed, and replacing the stretchers and tightening the canvas. The conservator also removed some of the previous paint touch ups on Silas’s portrait, and redid them. The Deanes are also situated in new, period-appropriate black “Boston” frames, in black with gold liners, “The portraits really pop now,” Malley says, “Visitors can now see new details that were previously covered with yellowed varnish and old paint.”

Also new to the WDS collection, an elegant silver wax-jack, designed to make the use of open flame (necessary in wax sealing) a safer proposition in homes and offices full of potential combustibles. The wax-jack features a beeswax-coated taper coiled around a center spindle to provide a safe method of heating and softening the wax used in sealing letters.

Those whose interests include fine china appreciate the Chinese export porcelain recently donated to the museum. Decorated with blue bands and circular cartouches containing sepia and gilt floral sprays, the partial tea service matches some of the porcelain previously on exhibit in the Webb House. WDS also received a partial 18th century dinner service. Coincidentally monogrammed with a gold “D,” it will be displayed in the Deane House. Executive Director Charles Lyle notes of the service, “It certainly is the type of dinnerware Silas Deane would have ordered for his own personal use and for large entertainments.”

WDS has also installed two additional mannequins in the Yorktown Parlor vignette that is based on Wallace Nutting’s 1916 “colonial” picture, “Birthday Flowers,” and created for the 100th anniversary of Nutting’s acquisition of the Webb House. The new, meticulously crafted dresses were created by former tour guide, Nina Vasques, and help recreate the scene envisioned by Nutting a century ago.