I have always loved the Thorne miniature rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. The one inch to one foot scale rooms interpret a variety of interiors from the United States and Europe between the 13th century and the 1930s. It’s really hard not to be impressed by the tremendous amount of detail the creators contributed to each work. Whenever I kneel in front of each little window, I sometimes forget that I’m not actually in the room I’m viewing. It’s the little things that make the difference. The tiny personal items– like spinning wheels, bird cages, and cookware–add convincing arguments that each room’s residents have just stepped away. I think the most enticing element is the use of light. The designers flood light in at a variety of angles from various sides from fixtures. I always save the 1930s English Drawing Room for last. I can never get enough of the recessed lighting along its walls. In person, each shell emits a beautiful, warm glow. Of all the rooms, this is the one I’d like to visit most in full size.
Recently, the Art Institute revealed a brand new way to experience the Thorne Rooms. A new online interactive, “Escape from Thorne Mansion,” allows viewers to touch various items and move between rooms in a variety of clever ways. The conceit of the exercise is that you are trapped in the Thorne mansion, and you need to collect three clues to earn your exit. As you progress, the narrative commentary is very fun, and the game covers a great sample of the collection. If a room is of special interest to you, you can follow a link to learn more about it. I hope that the Art Institute will replicate this with other collections of its material.
This is not the only great new interpretation of the Thorne Rooms. If you are able to visit the Art Institute in person between now and January, select rooms feature special seasonal decorations appropriate to the time and place depicted. It’s a great new holiday tradition, and I hope that it continues as an annual event.