Second childhood? God complex? Arrested development? Maybe. But Clark wasn’t alone. Miniatures have exerted a fascination over adults—and often, rich and powerful adults—since Duke Albrecht V forced large portions of a sixteenth-century court into the construction of what’s known as the “Munich Baby House.” Queen Mary’s Windsor Castle fantasia—furnished and outfitted by practically every artisan with a royal appointment—is famous; less well known is the elaborate dollhouse for which Alice Longworth Roosevelt frequently neglected guests, or the modern-art masterpiece created in the 1920s by the bohemian Stettheimer sisters. The Thorne Miniature Rooms, housed in the Art Institute of Chicago, were a labor of love for Narcissa Thorne, bolstered by the Montgomery-Ward fortune. And heiress Frances Glessner Lee used her leisure to construct the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths, scale dioramas of murders so accurate that they are still used today to teach burgeoning MEs. Clearly, there’s something about the world at 1:12″.
The writer, illustrator, and dollhouse-lover Tasha Tudor called the root of the appeal “perfection in miniature,” and it’s not hard to imagine that women of prior generations might have enjoyed exercising power over a larger domain than was their usual wont. A dollhouse could be aspirational: Faith Bradford, the Washington librarian who created the twenty-three-room miniature mansion on display at the Smithsonian, outfitted her creation with a full staff of servants—and Victorian piles, unsurprisingly, remain better sellers than apartments.