Inside the Collection

Dolls houses, old, new and making do

Dolls house with furniture and fittings
93/1/1 Doll’s house, ‘A Perfect Little House’, with furniture, fittings and dolls, mixed media, made by Wilf Pownall and Alison Pownall, Gunnedah, NSW, c. 1940. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Christmas is that time of year when thoughts of toys are unavoidable. Personally, I love dolls houses, the way the everyday boring world suddenly becomes special when replicated in miniature.

Dolls houses provoke inventiveness and problem solving. Rarely do children just accept the toy as given but tailor it with discarded bits and oddments repurposed for the miniature world. This may be the last place in the modern day where the spirit of making do still exists.

There are many dolls houses in our collection, but one that I feel a particular affinity with is one made for a little girl called Pam Pownall who lived in Gunnedah in the 1940s. The house itself was hand made from a packing case. The furniture is a mix of home crafted items and some shop bought pieces. Look at the way Pam has repurposed an old circular brooch to create a photo frame.

Detail of picture frame brooch
The picture frame brooch, one of the hand made fittings from the 93/1/1 Doll’s house, ‘A Perfect Little House’. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Dolls houses also tend to have a gorgeous layering of time – a quality which is rare in our disposable, consumer society. Items accumulate over years and from diverse sources. Often it is those rather tacky plastic pieces from long gone Christmas crackers which are most likely to bring memories flooding back.

Detail of doll house furniture, five fabric covered chairs
Dolls house furniture made by Nicole Balmer for her daughter. Image Nicole Balmer

Then there is the lovely feeling when a toy has been passed down through the generations. Pam Pownall’s dolls house was later played with by her niece and children and over the years pieces were added by other members of the family.

Written by Nicole Balmer, registrar

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