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Wendy Littlepage, director of the homeless Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, on the outside, looking in.EXPAND
Wendy Littlepage, director of the homeless Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, on the outside, looking in.
Courtesy of the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys

Think Big: How a Museum in Storage Still Connects With the Public

Last fall, the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys lost its rickety home in the dilapidated Pearce-McAllister Cottage, a property owned by History Colorado that's now slated for an update that does not include the DMMDT. And as Wendy Littlepage, longtime (and well-named) director of the museum, quickly discovered, it’s hard for a small nonprofit to get a toehold in this real estate market.

While Littlepage and her board have some leads, they're short of cash. “We’re still working out the funding,” she notes. “We can’t get money from patrons until we get a building. It’s a conundrum. We have $800,000 raised, but to successfully get everything done to move into any property would require revenue of at least $1.5 million."

But while the museum works to raise the rest, Littlepage isn't ready to put the museum in storage.  And the great thing about a collection of miniatures is that it’s easy to move around. “We’ve been upping our outreach,” she says. “We’ve done a series of programming at the Byers Branch Library and the Broomfield Library. We have an exhibit at the Molly Brown House Museum opening on February 28, and we’ll be collaborating with the Golden History Museum and the Colorado Railroad Museum later this spring.

The museum's Japanese friendship doll Miss Yokohama is currently on display at the Denver Central Library.EXPAND
The museum's Japanese friendship doll Miss Yokohama is currently on display at the Denver Central Library.
Courtesy of the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys

"Our most famous item — Miss Yokohama, the Japanese friendship doll — is now on display in the Western History Department at the Central Library,” Littlepage continues. “We didn't want to put her in storage. And we even have a dollhouse at the Little Sisters of the Poor; it’s our second with them. One cute resident recently said to us, ‘My family and the kids are so much more excited to come see me, and see all the miniatures.”

The collaboration with the Molly Brown House is on a much larger scale, and it’s given Littlepage more insight into the collection she oversees. “We are bringing a dollhouse that’s around the same age as the Molly Brown House," she says. "It’s a Victorian house for people who can’t do all the stairs in the museum. I also pulled a lot of toys and dolls. I found toys from the collection I hadn't even seen before. Frankly, a lot of stuff we pulled out has not been on display in ages due to space, like children’s sewing machines and toy soldiers.

More Victorian toys from the DMMDT toy collection.EXPAND
More Victorian toys from the DMMDT toy collection.
Courtesy of the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys

“We also have examples of a lot of modern technology from 1890, like a doll-sized table washing board and wringer and a zinc stove that you can heat up with coal and make things,” Littlepage continues. “It was the height of new ideas from the turn of the last century. We had to figure out how to make them a little more related to the scene, so we have doll trunks and fancy dolls of the era — because the Brown children would have had fancy toys. It’s a different window into the Molly Brown era. That’s one thing our collection does well.”

The DMMDT is also appealing to potential supporters through its new, monthly Smalltalk Miniatures Club, where enthusiasts can meet to share ideas and work on projects. DMMDT education director Misha Fraser recently arranged an introductory meeting at the Garage in the Highlands, a donated space. “It’s basically for beginners who are interested in getting into miniatures,” Fraser says of the club. “But there are also people who’ve been doing it for thirty, forty years who are looking for a new mini club. And people who first had dollhouses as kids who are interested in getting back into it.”

A tiny sewing kit from the DMMDT's toy collection.EXPAND
A tiny sewing kit from the DMMDT's toy collection.
Courtesy of the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys

Finding venues willing to offer free space for DMMDT meetings is essential. “We have no money to rent spaces and want to keep the programs and materials free," Fraser continues. "We’re very flexible. I’d like to get more involved in programming at bars and coffee shops. It would be fun to think up nighttime activities for adults.”

That's all part of DMMDT’s goal to “keep out in the community, continue to serve” while the museum itself is in limbo, Littlepage explains. In the meantime, they're raising funds through the Capital Campaign link on DMMDT’s home page; donations can also be made at the museum’s GoFundMe page and at coloradogives.org. “Or just write us a check, give us a building," Littlepage adds. "We’ll take bags of cash.”

And make those big bags.

The Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys will be at the Molly Brown House Museum, 1340 Pennsylvania Street, on Saturday, February 23: a free day. The DMMDT exhibit will open at the Molly Brown House on Thursday, February 28; it will run through late April and the show is included with museum admission. The DMMDT’s 39th annual Fall Miniature Show and Sale will return September 4-8 at the Doubletree Hotel by Hilton DTC, 7801 East Orchard Road in Greenwood Village. Keep up with more happenings at the museum website and Facebook page.

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