Most of the homes and room boxes in the KSB Miniatures Collection are re-creations of particular periods of time—Spencer House takes you back to 18th century England, South Bend reimagines the Victorian Era, and Savage & Sons depicts jewelry shopping in the Georgian Period—to name a few. There is one, though, that merges the past with its modern-day portrayal. The Titanic room box is a unique introspection of the blockbuster 1997 movie and offers interesting features all its own.
I was attending the Philadelphia show some ten years after Leo and Kate had charmed the world with their fictional love story when I first saw it. As I passed by the booth of Ray Whitledge and Scott Burgess, a moving picture caught my eye. It was the movie Titanic being played in 1/12 scale within a room box depicting the scene in the film where Jack is sketching Rose, wearing nothing but that massive “blue diamond” necklace. I was intrigued and purchased the room box for display in the KSB Miniatures Collection at the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center. It enjoyed its own premiere for a few weeks until I began to notice something odd. “Rose” was attracting quite a bit of attention from school-age visitors to the museum—notably young males.
I didn’t think anything about the nudity, per se, but I did have to be concerned about the distraction it was causing and I ultimately asked distinguished doll maker Shirley Whitworth Bertram to make a clothed version of the heroine. Obviously it is not true to the scene, but like James Cameron did for the movie, executive decisions had to be made for the overall viewing experience of the room box. Hence the negligee.
There are, however, many beautiful details in the scene which incorporate both the movie and the actual ship’s interior. While the story behind the “Heart of the Ocean” necklace was fabricated, many of the architectural items are true to the era and to how the luxury suites on Bridge Deck B may have looked, such as the rich wood paneling, wall fixtures, and leaded glass doors.
Another 1/12-scale reproduction of an item that could have very well been featured on the ship is a stunning 18th century chest by master miniaturist Denis Hillman, pictured at left topped with a decanter set by Ferenc Albert. I already had the piece in the collection but added it to the Titanic scene to reflect the lavish furnishings of the real ship’s staterooms. It was a perfect location for viewers to be able to see Denis’s work up close to appreciate the detail. He is well known for his Louis XV and Louis XVI French furniture as seen in the Pistner House and for his 1/12-reproduction of the Bureau du Roi (currently on loan from the Ede & Ravenscroft miniature collection to the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures). The re-creation of King Louis XV’s famous roll-top secretary was crafted from more than 16,000 pieces of fruitwood set in seven marquetry designs and includes solid gold ormolu mounts. It took Denis four years to complete it and many consider it one of the finest examples of miniature furniture ever made. Other items I added to the scene include a sterling sculpture of cherubs by Pete Acquisto and a sterling silver basket of purple roses.
It’s been a decade since the Titanic room box made its debut, 20 years this December since the movie premiered, and 105 years since the ship’s voyage in April 1912. While Titanic was fictionalized with everything Hollywood has to offer, it did shed light on the tragic event and encourage others to explore the history of the ship. I can only hope the room box does the same. As Cameron did with the movie, creative liberties were taken with the scene—the biggest being the inclusion of the 1/12-scale movie—but like the film, the room box continues to be a viewer favorite at the museum and if it moves people to learn more about the Titanic and to remember those who lost lives, then it is entirely worth it. I know I think of both whenever I admire this one-of-a-kind room box.