Saturday, January 18, 2014

Extreme (Fairy) Home Makeover: The Colleen Moore Fairy Castle Restoration at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

This article of mine originally appeared at ChooseChicago.com, where I am a contributor. 


As a little girl, I adored visiting Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle at the Musuem of Science and Industry. It's simply the most fantastic dollhouse ever; built in 1928 by silent film star Colleen Moore, this home for dolls features an interior designed by famed Hollywood art director Harold Grieve. It's been a featured exhibit at MSI since the early 1950s, and now it's undergoing an extreme (fairy) home makeover - and visitors are invited to watch! From now through mid-February, this conservation is open to museum visitors, giving everyone a chance to see this beloved museum icon in an entirely new way.

I recently visited with my children, who were amazed to see all the miniature furniture pieces and accents; I was delighted to have a better view of the mini objets d'art that are usually nestled in their positions in the castle. When you visit, here's a little more background on what you need to know. 

Colleen Moore was a Hollywood silent film star during the 1920s with a passion for miniatures and doll houses. In 1928, she hired architect and set designer Horace Jackson to create the floor plan and layout for her dream doll house, while art director and interior designer Harold Grieve, who had redesigned Colleen Moore's mansion, was hired to create elaborate interiors. Over 100 people worked on the Fairy Castle until its completion in 1935. 

Moore, not only an actress but also a savvy business woman, organized a national tour of the Fairy Castle to raise money for children's charities. The delightful doll house made its way across the U.S., stopping in toy departments of major cities' department stores in the name of charity. In 1949, the Fairy Castle made its final stop at the Museum of Science and Industry, where it has been a beloved icon loved by generation after generation. Even my own mom remembers with nostalgia visiting the museum to see the doll house when she was a little girl!
Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle MSI

The current conservation project is focused on ensuring the structure's long-term preservation for generations to come. The Fairy Castle's 200 individual segments have been disassembled, so visitors can see its rooms in detail from all sides. Perhaps best of all, more than 1,500 of the castle's tiny artifacts are on display, so visitors can see them up-close for the very first time. The conservators will be working in the gallery (see schedule below) and are happy to discuss their critical role in restoring this museum treasure.

I was fascinated seeing the Fairy Castle's book collection up close; Colleen Moore had over 80 books created especially for her miniature castle book collection, including hand printed excerpts from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Agatha Christie's At Bertram's Hotel, and Willa Cather's Shadow on the Rock. On Sundays and Mondays beginning December 8, visitors have also been able to see book conservator, Bozena Pszczulna-Szymanski of Paper Conservation Studio treat the miniature books from the collection.


If you loved and appreciated the Fairy Castle as a child, don't miss this rare opportunity! And bring your little ones along, so that they can see the Fairy Castle before it's assembled back into its grand whole.

Restoration Gallery Schedule:
Daily through mid-February

Conservator Schedule:
Tuesdays - Saturdays: Structure conservators from Litas Liparini Restoration Studio.
Sundays and Mondays: Book conservator Bozena Pszczulna-Szymanski of Paper Conservation Studio.
After the conservation project, the Fairy Castle exhibit will re-open to the public in mid-March 2014

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