When the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society sent out a request coaxing local residents to scour their attics for dollhouses to be displayed on loan in an exhibit called “Small World,” the 100 or so responses came with a few surprises and curiosities and even some giggles and quirks.
“We learned that we have some serious dollhouse collectors in our community and some not so serious, like one who had a tongue-in-cheek treehouse dwelling for squirrels complete with fireplace and a framed painting of — what else? — acorns. And it’s not just for girls; several had held onto their childhood ‘boy toys,’ the kind with buildings and movable parts like a Fort Apache and a Hot Wheels Service Station, and there’s much more,” says Kate Carmel, president of the society.
The exhibit, which runs through Oct. 2, is a first-of-its-kind fundraiser for repairs to the society’s landmark building on Bellport Lane, the 1833 Post-Crowell House. A dollhouse-size model of the Federal-style building served as the inspiration for “Small World” and is on permanent display in the Barn Museum on the society’s Bell Street campus. “We haven’t been able to trace the history of the model,” Carmel says, “but it’s quite accurate, and it seemed only natural to plan the exhibit around it.”
On display are more than 20 dollhouses, some authentically furnished with reproductions of antiques, many exquisitely handcrafted by their hobbyist owners. “This show is such fun, all these little treasures in one place,” says dollhouse enthusiast Ginny Waterman of Bellport as she tours the displays. “I saw some items I had as a child. I wish I still had them. You’re never too old to play.” Included are era-specific architectural styles from traditional 1940s Tudors to split-levels of the ’50s and ’60s, many aglow with electric lighting. And just for fun, there are some live-in non-houses such as a converted lighthouse and a camper.
Girls and their nostalgic moms will ooh and aah over the first of Barbie’s many Dream Houses: the 1963 Malibu Pink Palace complete with elevator and ringing telephone. Barbie and the Mattel toy company have had a yen for real estate ever since. The glam princess moves frequently to and from residences like the one in the exhibit to other Dream Houses created by Mattel for sites around the country. There’s an A-frame in Aspen, Colorado (not in the show), and a yet-to-be-produced posh pad in Manhattan designed by Bellport resident Celerie Kimble.
Leaning heavily on that nostalgia, area residents dusted off their prized replicas of individual rooms for the show. An old-fashioned grocery store features shelves stocked with tiny packaged goods, and for laughs, cardboard cutouts called “dummy boards” of Jackie Gleason and the cast of “The Honeymooners” enliven a clone of the dismal set of the TV comedy series, which first aired in 1951.
There’s even a glimpse of things to come in the futuristic Kaleidoscope House with its multicolored transparent walls that slide open to reveal interiors fitted with modernist furnishings and art. Peter Wheelwright and Dakota Jackson are among the trendsetting architects and designers who created this stunning dollhouse in 2001 as a collaborative project for a toy company. Limited-edition copies are valued at about $2,500.
“Boys and girls don’t play with their hands and imaginations nowadays like they used to,” Carmel says. “They sit in front of electronic games that have no relationship to real life. A look at the past can be an eye-opener. And we’ve even included a group of houses and furnishings that visitors can handle, so come play with us.”
‘Small World’ dollhouse exhibit
WHEN | WHERE Through Oct. 2, Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday noon-3 p.m., group tours daily 12 and 2 p.m. (reservations required), Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society, 12 Bell St., Bellport
INFO $5, free children younger than 12; bbhsmuseum.com