Moving a miniature universe isn’t easy. Wendy Littlepage, longtime director of the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, had every right to feel overwhelmed when the tiny cultural gem with limited funds made the move from its former home in the sweet-but-rickety Pierce-McAllister Cottage in City Park West to a new, larger and more modern space miles away at 830 Kipling Street in Lakewood earlier this year. But she had help.
“My board is tenacious,” Littlepage maintains. “They don't believe in ‘no’ as a solid answer. They’re the ones who are always asking, ‘But what about this?’ I can’t believe they're not running the whole world.” The process of moving, unpacking and labeling a museum collection that largely lived in boxes because of limited exhibition space couldn’t have happened without them, along with an army of volunteer doll collectors from the community.
“When you’re on a tight time schedule, every little thing puts you back three months,” Littlepage admits. “I recruited great doll enthusiasts who are researching signs for me. I’m a history nerd, and I’d research all day if you let me. I had to keep from falling down the Google spiral.” There were dollhouses to clean, repair and touch up — right down to the fading landscape, she notes: “It required more patience than I've been gifted with.”
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The DMMDT, which had languished behind closed doors for months during ongoing fundraising efforts and the hunt for an affordable new space, reopened about a month ago with COVID protocols in place, in spite of everything that could have gone wrong. Not that there weren’t a few slip-ups — slow-moving contractors inciting countless prayers to the inspection gods, to name one. As it is, only a small portion of the museum is open to the public for now, as fundraising and remodeling the rest of the 13,000-square-foot building to American Disability Act standards continues with an eye to a better future.
Ironically, notes Littlepage, the first phase of the exhibit space is a bit smaller than what the museum had before. “We’re opening in phases because no one showed up to give us a million dollars,” she adds. “But we now have a parking lot, and people in wheelchairs can see our displays,” something not possible in the Pierce-McAllister. Gone are the faulty 1890s electrical system, weight limitations, lack of air conditioning and unnavigable staircases. Eventually, Littlepage plans to add an elevator and open up classrooms for museum workshops and meeting space for doll clubs.
Given the space she’s been able to utilize in Lakewood, there’s still a lot to see on display that you’ve probably never seen before and some that you have, Littlepage says. “You know how every time you move, you somehow pack the bed linens with the automotive supplies?” Matching things that came out of unmarked boxes to records of what they were and where they belonged was a time-consuming job. Only then could Littlepage and crew begin putting items out for display. “Working with the doll people, we decided to go with favorites and good stories, but we also wanted to push the envelope a little bit. It’s mostly fun pieces out there right now.”
Dollhouses that haven’t seen the light of day for who knows how long include “a really fun farmhouse with chickens, cows, cats and dogs, and a huge garden,” Littlepage notes. “It’s the kind of farmhouse that makes you want to sit on the porch and drink lemonade.” Also on view is a beautiful Southwestern-style home decorated with tiny pueblo-style pottery, silver necklaces and baskets. “No one thinks of doll houses having beautiful Native American and Southwest art,” Littlepage says. And yet that’s what you’ll find on the exhibition floor at the new museum.
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With the museum up and running, if not at capacity, Littlepage can also now focus on DMMDT’s fortieth annual Fall Show & Sale, a major fundraiser with statewide appeal. Due to COVID, the event, which runs September 9 through 12, will be fully online this year, and that could be a blessing in disguise by drawing more than a regional audience. All you need to participate is a screen and access to the Internet to partake in the sales room, exhibit slideshow, fundraising auction, a lecture by author Bruce Goldfarb (18 Tiny Deaths) and online workshops via Zoom; register online for workshops and other ticketed events or to make a donation.
Meanwhile the doors at the museum are open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m., with advance ticketing online required for timed entry. Admission is $4 to $5 (members free).
Reserve tickets and learn more about the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, the virtual Fall Show and items from the museum collection at the DMMDT website.