My combined love of history and fine art miniatures is the primary reason the KSB Miniatures Collection exists. I believe the exhibits breathe life into depictions of the past in a way that pictures cannot. The vignettes may be static, but they have power in their detail to move the mind to imagine the scenes in motion. These storied pieces are one of my favorite parts of giving tours and I like to think I’m quite knowledgeable about how they relate to history. There was one room box, however, that literally took me by surprise.
It was about this time last year when the Huffington Post, a popular online news site, featured an article about “spite houses.” The headline piqued my interest as one of the exhibits in the gallery is called The Spite House. The story was about homes that were built with malice in mind, specifically to annoy the neighbors. Many evolved out of family disputes or protests of some kind. The home the article featured was none other than the 1806 Thomas McCobb House—the very same home our room box depicts!
According to the story, the home was originally located in Phippsburg, Maine. McCobb, a ship captain, was heir to his father’s shipbuilding business and property, which included one of the finest homes in the area. When the captain returned home one day from a trip at sea, he was stunned to find his stepbrother and mother occupying the mansion through what, he felt, was a manipulative legal move. Rather than duke it out, McCobb built an even grander manor across the street, an elegant Federal-style home topped with an octagonal cupola that would effectively now make the new home the biggest and best on the block, or all blocks for that matter. One can only imagine the relationship these neighbors/family members must have had. Either way, over the next hundred years the home succumbed to considerable deterioration.
While most couldn’t see beyond the decay of the aging structure, Philadelphian Donald Dodge did, and in 1925 he moved the 40′ x 45′ house 85 miles by barge to Beauchamp Point (also known as Deadman’s Point) in Rockport, Maine, to become his family’s residence. Several articles document the transport and feature images of the home en route by boat. Ironically, I am looking at the pictures exactly 90 years to the date that they moved the house, which was eventually restored and enlarged by Dodge. All these years I was aware of the architectural value and historical aspects of the pieces in the room box, but I did not know the backstory of the house itself. Now that I do, it makes the piece by Harry Smith even more special.
Harry is an amazing artisan who not only based this piece on a room in the historical house, he made many of the items in the exhibit including the Federal sofa, lolling chair, portrait, painted wood vase, Pembroke table, tambour secretary and painted scenery. Other contributions to the scene include the low grandmother clock: Ernie Levy; telescope and fireplace hardware: Ron Stetkewicz; fire screen: Paul Runyon; tea set: Jean Yingling; and Borzoi: Liz McInnis.
Today the Spite House is a private residence, its history open to the public only through news articles and photographs, so visitors to the gallery are getting a rare and personal glimpse into the historic home when they view Harry’s 1:12-scale work. And with my newly gleaned information, they’re getting even more insight to the Spite House with the retelling of its intriguing past.