As the face of the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, DMMDT executive director Wendy Littlepage has worked hard to attract millennials while preserving strong relationships with more traditional audiences of the very young and the very old. Almost single-handedly, Littlepage has not only kept the museum, located since 1987 in History Colorado's aging, 118-year-old Pearce-McAllister Cottage, physically glued together, but she’s also kept the organization running.
Now History Colorado is finally repairing and modernizing the beautiful but dilapidated Dutch Colonial Revival structure, but that means DMMDT will lose its home of 31 years. It’s a mixed blessing, because the situation lends a sense of urgency to Littlepage’s dream of a bigger, more modern space. But she still has to find it — and finance it —and the museum will be in limbo as those tasks are accomplished.
Littlepage has known for more than a year that the museum would have to move, though History Colorado has granted a few reprieves in terms of deadlines.
Preparations have been under way for months, but Littlepage still has a long way to go. “We’re down to the galleries and the dolls at this point,” she says. “All the rest of the stuff — books, papers, stationery, the why-do -we-even-have-this-kind-of-stuff stuff — is done. But we’ll still be in the building in August and September, spending sixty to eighty hours a week and still getting out by the skin of our teeth.” There’s a lot to sift through, she adds: “The museum was founded by Depression-era-thinking members who can’t throw anything out.”
Sometimes that’s a good thing when you need maintenance supplies or party napkins, she explains, but when it comes to displaying the museum’s trove of 20,000-plus items in the current location, “only a quarter of the collection can be out at one time. We have twelve dollhouses that haven't been shown in the past six to ten years. I’m excited by the prospect of having more flexibility of space.”
And that’s still in the dream stages: The DMMDT’s small stature as a public nonprofit makes it hard to compete with bigger organizations vying for a space.
“The Denver market is so competitive, and in terms of fundraising, we are probably two-thirds of where we need to be to easily move in, fit in the collection and remodel in a new place,” Littlepage says. “The developers all make cash bids now, and we just don't have the oomph to win that competition.”
Still, she’s been actively looking at properties that meet certain specifications. “After grandfathering in a historic property for so long, part of the problem is that you need physical space,” notes Littlepage. “We require a minimum of 6,000 square feet. That would be a minimum. We also would like to improve our accessibility, because we serve a lot of seniors with disabilities.” The Pearce-McAllister Cottage, with its second floor and rickety staircase, has never been an easy place for the disabled to visit.
While the search continues, the museum collection will go into storage before the end of the year. Littlepage hopes to continue DMMDT workshops and programs at host locations (including hands-on classes at public libraries, schools, senior centers and RedLine’s semi-monthly Make/Shift Mondays), and the museum’s annual Fall Show and Sale will go down as usual in September (details below).
And Littlepage will continue visualizing: “I’m looking forward to being able to share more of the collection and developing more focused hands-on areas and technology stations that connect with people. It will be a fun challenge to merge nostalgia with a fresh, more modern feel in the institution.”
But there’s one thing she’d like to hang on to: “I don't ever want to lose the Grandma’s-house vibe.”
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Catch the old-fashioned vibe one last time at the Pearce-McAllister Cottage, 1880 Gaylord Street, during the museum's final public weekend there on Saturday, August 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, August 5, from 1 to 4 p.m.
Attend Bon Appetit, the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys 2018 Fall Show and Sale, September 5 through September 9, at the Doubletree by Hilton DTC, 7801 East Orchard Road in Greenwood Village. Sales and exhibit rooms will be open Saturday and Sunday, September 8 and 9; workshops and other special events happen Wednesday through Friday, September 5, 6 and 7. Learn more and register for workshops, banquets and other events online. Admission to the show is $4 to $7 at the door; tickets are good for both days.
Make a donation to the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys building fund by credit card online at Colorado Gives. Only cash donations can be accepted in person at the museum.