The Whittier by Noel and Pat Thomas has many stories to tell, but they are not mine. They belong to the collector who commissioned it—Sarah Salisbury who passed away in 2011, to its makers Noel and Pat Thomas, who created it in the eighties, and to the many miniaturists who have since been inspired by this work.
Pat discusses creating the piece in her 2012 blog The Whittier: Travels & Tales in the Black Ambulance, an account of their early years and also an insight into Sarah’s love for the structure. As Pat explains, they were hesitant about re-creating the home for Sarah, who wanted it to portray her childhood home at 420 N. Painter Street in Whittier, California. Sometimes, something as personal as childhood memories cannot be reimagined as the mind remembers, but Pat and Noel gave it a shot and Sarah was ecstatic. Ann Hendricks of La Casa Photos was a teenager who grew up around the corner from the house. In fact, she remembers passing it every day on her way to school. She visited Sarah twenty or so years ago at the collector’s home in Corona Del Mar where The Whittier and her collection were displayed. Together they marveled at the accuracy of the miniature home.
Another miniaturist, Chris Toledo, who is widely followed online for his creation of a 1920s “Old Hollywood” Mediterranean-inspired mansion, is also a big fan of The Whittier, of Noel and Pat’s work and of Sarah Salisbury. So much so, he did a drive-by of the original house, as he explained in an email, “As I drove down the street, it took no time to spot the beautiful 1900s Craftsman home. Although the colors had changed and the effects of time were apparent, it was unmistakably the childhood home of Sarah Salisbury.”
Interestingly, Chris has never seen The Whittier miniature in person—he does, however, admit to reading Pat’s blog on it close to a dozen times. “I instantly felt a connection to this piece. This home, in my opinion, broke the streak of Georgian and Victorian architecture that had always dominated the miniature world. The simple, yet intricate, details challenged everything I knew about the miniature world and really opened my eyes to a whole new world of inspiration.”
Chris, of Chris Toledo Miniatures, hopes to someday make his own version of a Craftsman bungalow house or room box. For decorating ideas, he says, he would flip through the pages of old 1920s Sears catalogs. Like myself, he has a genuine interest in illustrating history by reflecting how people lived, and those catalogs would certainly provide tons of ideas.
Furnishing The Whittier is, at the moment, a work in progress as we prepare for October’s exhibition, Scaled to Perfection: A Gallery of New Miniatures. My plan is to appoint it with Mission Revival and Arts and Crafts-style pieces to create a more modernized version of what it would have looked like during Sarah’s childhood. The Arts and Crafts years have become one of my favorite periods in furnishings with their clean lines and artistic details. There are some really great artisans who have produced and who are currently producing these period furnishings in miniature and I am pleased to be able to feature them in this house.
Kari Bloom of Miniton Miniatures has made some lovely upholstered living room/parlor furniture using one of my favorite color schemes, teals and tangerines. I have also always been fond of William Morris designs in wallpaper and carpets, so I am excited to be able to include a William Morris-design carpet which will be French-knotted by Teresa Layman. Pieces by Julian Biggers and Dick Hardy will be added and I am absolutely thrilled to be featuring Mark Murphy’s gorgeous library table and two of his chairs. Another Mark Murphy Miniatures piece which will debut is the dresser at your left from his personal collection. The original was designed by Harvey Ellis for Gustav Stickley (1904-10). The miniature is made of maple with lace wood drawer fronts and walnut handles surrounded by a metal inlay. Mark told me he would only part with this piece if it were to go into The Whittier.
His comment further substantiates just how special and well known The Whittier is in the miniatures world. That, in itself, was another reason I wanted to acquire it. It not only introduces a new architectural style to the KSB Miniatures Collection, but represents to many, including myself, an architectural treasure in miniature, complete with Noel and Pat’s unique techniques which so perfectly show how this house would have aged over the years.
As I delve more into The Whittier, I can’t help but think of Sarah—storing her toys in the window seats before dinner and sitting at the top of the basement steps trying to summon courage to enter the cellar. I felt that same way as a child. I think of the architects of the Craftsman styles and their design choices, of Noel and Pat in their two-year construction process of the piece, and of the many miniaturists who have long been fascinated by the structure. I hope to make my own stories with The Whittier in the hopes that now that it is on display, it will continue to inspire generations of new miniaturists and anyone who has a love for history and architecture.