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Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death


 
I find it baffling how one can visit The Art Institute of Chicago, home to some of the most iconic paintings in the world, and somehow bypass the Thorne Miniature Rooms. The collection boasts a breathtaking display of sixty-eight realistic dioramas of home interiors from around the world, ranging from Europe of the 13th century to America in the 1930s. As you peruse the extravagant display, you can imagine the tiny people who may have once called these painstaking reproductions their homes. Suddenly, you are immersed—a life’s worth of miniature milestones flashes before your eyes. Tiny meals enjoyed on a tiny kitchen table. Tiny books studied beside a tiny fireplace. A tiny murder involving a disgruntled ex-husband, an eyedropper full of bourbon, and a crowbar the size of your pinky finger. They were times of happiness and of despair.

Miniature rooms can be appreciated as more than just a niche form of art. Atlas Obscura recently profiled Frances Glessner Lee, considered by many to be the “mother of forensic science.” Raised in a privileged household, Glessner Lee had strong ambitions in academia, which she was prohibited from pursuing by her family due to her gender. It wasn’t until her divorce and her family inheritance later in life that Glessner Lee was able to dedicate her time, wealth, and craft to her one true passion: crime scene investigation.
 

 
Forensic science of the 1930s was still a developing practice without an adequate investigation procedure. Homicide cases would often go unsolved due to insufficient evidence and the inability to interpret data. This all changed when Glessner Lee helped found Harvard’s Department of Legal Medicine in 1931. It was through her involvement in the emerging world of criminology that Frances was able to develop a craft that contributed significantly to the field of forensics.

In the 1940s, Glessner Lee began work on “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” a series of nineteen unique and highly-detailed dioramas that depicted the modern homicide. Each case involved an everyday example of death, such as hanging or stabbing, all presented in the context of a relatable setting, the home. The most eerie aspect of Frances’ work, besides the gruesome depiction of a dollhouse-sized murders, is that these were meticulously designed to replicate real cases from the Department of Legal Medicine. Great attention to detail was necessary on each model, because they would later be used to train operatives to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.” Analyzing each crime scene carefully reveals a real dedication to the specificity of the information, such as the position of the mini bullet holes, location of blood splatters, and the decay of its victims, who were mostly women.
 

 
Once described as “Grandma: Sleuth at Sixty-Nine,” Frances Glessner Lee became the first female police captain in United States in 1949. Not only was she a female who confronted the gender and workplace norms of American society, but also one who utilized what was considered to be a woman’s craft to become a significant figure among a male-dominated practice of police investigation.

Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death will be on view at the Renwick Gallery in Washington DC from October 20th, 2017 - January 28th, 2018. The exhibition brings together all nineteen dioramas for their first ever public display as a complete series.
 

 

 
More miniature murders after the jump…

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Posted by Bennett Kogon
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10.18.2017
12:30 pm
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Powerful anti-racist miniature dioramas created inside jewelry boxes
09.27.2017
09:37 am
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‘Deluge’ (2015).
 
Maybe it was the miniature world of The Sims or the illustrations in Where’s Waldo? with its crammed panoramic scenes filled with chaos and action that first suggested the possibility to Canadian artist Curtis “Talwst” Santiago of producing tiny dioramas inside jewelry boxes. Or, maybe it was the Parisian dude living in Vancouver, from whom Talwst bought old magazines and posters to make his collages, who one day tossed him an engagement ring box and said, “I want to see what you can do with this.”

It didn’t take long. Talwst’s turned the box into a diorama of a beach scene with his girlfriend coming out of the water like Botticelli’s Venus. It was the start of a process with which Talwst creates astonishing works of power and beauty.

Talwst—pronounced “Tall Waist” a reference to his Caribbean grandfather’s and his father’s nickname—was born and raised in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. His father emigrated from Trinidad to Fort McMurray in 1969. The experience of growing up in Canada was different to the life Talwst discovered when he moved to New York. As a Black man then living in Brooklyn, he found himself stopped and frisked by cops for no other reason than the color of his skin.

When I came to the States, there was some difference between me and the young man here that I see. But the minute I put on that big black hoodie, my black sweatpants, and I’m standing outside having a smoke outside of my studio, I’m immediately viewed as ‘nobody,’ and they know nothing about me. I realized that could happen to anyone, at any time. How many young men, that are loved by their families and are good people, were being killed? That resonated with me. It was the start of looking at Black identity in America because it’s significantly different than Canada.

The state-sanctioned racism and violence against the Black community made Talwst understand that Black lives have less value in America, and that at any moment his own “life could be taken or seen as having no value.”

Watching news reports of Black men being murdered on the streets for no reason led Talwst to produce dioramas on the shooting by police of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, and the strangulation by police of Eric Garner on Staten Island in 2014.

[W]ith Michael Brown, it’s almost like a Goya painting [The Third of May]. Where we have images of this person beforehand and then we have images of him dead.

It’s a plethora of feelings. It’s frustration, it’s feeling thankful that I’m standing in a position where I’m able to observe and look at it, and not feel lost, locked in it, trapped by it. With the Eric Garner tape, you watch the whole thing happen in front of you. Working on that piece was so sad for me. I felt so much sorrow for his family. You hear him beg for his life.

Just before Garner’s murder, Talwst had seen Goya’s Disasters of War etching Por Qué? of “this guy being choked against a tree by three soldiers.”

A few days later, it’s 4 AM in the morning and I’m watching the YouTube video [of Garner being choked by police officers], and it draws to mind the etchings. I started crying, working and crying and feeling so sad and hurt. But I learned so much from that. I learned that I had the ability to channel my emotions into the work, if it’s honest work. But I held in the back of mind, this is not a monument to death. This is the spark to thinking and looking differently for a lot of people that are going to view this and see the video. It had to be a catalyst, mainly for his family. They’ve seen the moment of his death so much, but they never saw a moment of his ascension, his soul moving. And that’s what I wanted to create.

Talwst has also produced dioramas on the plight of Syrian refugees (Deluge) and the rape of indigenous people (The Rape). He also has produced work on environmentalism, gender and identity. His dioramas have been featured in art galleries and museums across America and Canada, and in Paris, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Geneva, Switzerland. And you can see more of Curtis Talwst Santiago’s work here. Click images to see larger picture.
 
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‘Execution of Unarmed Black Men’ aka ’ Execution of Michael Brown’ (2014).
 
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‘Por qué?’ (2014).
 
More of Talwst’s astonishing dioramas, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.27.2017
09:37 am
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The strangely captivating dioramas of the Hamamatsu Diorama Factory in Japan


“Day Saka-agari,” one of the 40 fascinating dioramas made by Takuji Yamada that can be seen at the Hamamatsu Diorama Factory.
 
If you ever find yourself in Hamamatsu, Japan I’d recommend you make a bee-line for the intriguing Hamamatsu Diorama Factory, where you can see approximately 40 of master model builder Takuji Yamada’s intricate dioramas.

Takuji’s works depict a wide range of Japanese culture and history, including some thought-provoking images of what life was like in Japan during WWII. There are also many whimsical dioramas featuring pop culture references—specifically from the long line of Japanese monster movies such as Ultraman and his monstrous nemesis Neronga, as well as a strange homage to President John F. Kennedy who helped save the crumbling relationship between the U.S. and Japan during his short time as our 35th president. Admission to the curious Hamamatsu Diorama Factory is a real bargain—less than three U.S. dollars gets an adult in the door and kids are free. I’ve included a number of images of Yamada’s impeccably detailed dioramas that I think you will enjoy looking at below. Yamada’s work is also the subject a couple of books, the most comprehensive being the 2000 publication, Takuji Yamada’s Diorama Works.
 

 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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02.27.2017
10:17 am
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Damn fine teeny-tiny ‘Twin Peaks’ dioramas
09.27.2016
09:50 am
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A diorama based on Agent Dale Cooper’s dream about the ‘Red-Room’ from David Lynch’s 1990 television series ‘Twin Peaks.’
 
An artist based in Babenhausen, Germany named “Kristina” is currently selling her super-small DIY Twin Peaks diorama sets that come in three different versions based on scenes from the original television series that made its debut over 25 years ago.
 

A tiny David Lynch is included with this version of ‘Red-Room’ diorama.
 
Available in her Etsy store Boxartig you can pick up what Kristina refers to as “Dodos” of Agent Dale Cooper’s dream about the Red-Room, a scene from Lydecker Veterinary Clinic that features Agent Cooper and a Llama getting acquainted; and a grim miniature recreation of the body of Laura Palmer resting on the beach wrapped in plastic. While they are pricey ($58-$94 bucks a pop) they are really well done and it’s my hope that the talented German artist will continue to create others as I’m quite sure the one’s currently available at Boxartig will quickly disappear (the Lydecker’s Vet diorama already has).

Images of Kristina’s tiny homages to Twin Peaks follow.
 

A diorama based on the Lydecker Veterinary Clinic in ‘Twin Peaks.’
 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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09.27.2016
09:50 am
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This ‘Street Trash’ diorama of the infamous toilet ‘meltdown’ scene can now be yours!
08.25.2016
11:44 am
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Behold the one-of-a-kind ‘Street Trash’ diorama based on the famous toilet ‘meltdown’ scene.
 
Available for sale over at the aptly-titled Curious Goods (via Big Cartel) is this eight-inch-scale diorama depicting one of the most memorable (or impossible to forget) scenes in cult movie history—the infamous toilet ‘meltdown’ scene from the 1987 “film” Street Trash.
 

 
Standing fifteen-inches in height the DIY diorama shows “Wizzy” (played by actor Bernard Perlman) taking his last dump after guzzling a bottle of “Tenafly Viper” and was hand painted using the various dayglo colors that were used throughout the film to enhance its gore. The unapologetic, decadently gross film was to be director J. Michael Muro’s film school thesis but was rejected for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has seen Street Trash. And as if this isn’t enough good news for anyone who adores this flick, this one-of-a-kind piece of cinema tragedy is currently ON SALE for the low-brow price of $150.

The film (which has been praised by horror directors Wes Craven and George Romero) was also the subject of a two-hour documentary in 2006 which you can get in a specially packaged Blu Ray from 2013 Street Trash: Special Meltdown Edition.
 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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08.25.2016
11:44 am
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Diabolical dioramas depict murderous clowns, tiny cannibals and their unfortunate victims
07.12.2016
11:20 am
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‘Problem Solved.’ A ‘Dieorama’ by artist Abigail Goldman. Pictured with a dime to show scale.
 
In 2012 the violently awesome dioramas of Bellingham, Washington-based Abigail Goldman, the artist behind “My Wife Makes Dioramas” made the rounds on the Internets and a lot of people dug the dark concepts featuring little plastic people being chopped up into bits by clowns or dismembered by cannibals just in time for dinner. In other words, Miss Goldman is fantastic.
 

Cannibal pool party. Groovy!
 
If you somehow missed the first round of Goldman’s blood-splattered dioramas then you’re in luck as a couple of weeks ago several new dioramas were uploaded to the My Wife Makes Dioramas Imgur site and boy, it was worth the wait as there is all kinds of mayhemic bad shit going on including MORE AXE WIELDING CLOWNS! From what I understand you can actually purchase Goldman’s bloody dioramas by contacting her over at her amusingly titled website “DIEORAMA.”

If you’re planning on being in San Francisco in next month you can see some of Goldman’s works in person at the Hashimoto Contemporary August 4th - the 27th. Images of Goldman’s gruesome minuscule murder scenes follow (along with some of her past work that I had to include) and are somewhat NSFW. But you knew that when I said the words “murderous clowns,” didn’t you?
 

 

 
More murderous mayhem in miniature after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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07.12.2016
11:20 am
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Dollhouses of doom: Lori Nix’s post-apocalyptic dioramas
10.31.2014
09:58 am
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Library, 2007
 
The morbid fascination with “ruin porn”—the decrepit or devastated remains of human existence—is hardly a niche interest at this point. People are drawn to the aftermath of destruction or the ravages of time because catastrophe and/or decay is mesmerizing, but many argue that ruin porn is voyeuristic and ghoulish. Well, that’s why we have art, folks—so we can gawk without guilt!

For her series, “The City,” photographer Lori Nix hand-builds tiny, exquisitely detailed diorama models of human spaces in a post-apocalyptic world. Nix grew up in disaster-prone Kansas, and a childhood of flooding, tornadoes, and blizzards shaped her catastrophic visions as much as sensationalist cinema. From her site:

I am fascinated, maybe even a little obsessed, with the idea of the apocalypse. In addition to my childhood experiences with natural disasters, I also grew up watching 1970s films known as “disaster flicks.” I remember watching Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Planet of the Apes and sitting in awe in the dark. Here was the same type of dangers I had experienced day to day being magnified and played out on the big screen in a typical Hollywood way.

The mysterious disaster that’s left Nix’s civilization to fallow is never explained, and no human survivors are ever present. The viewer is simply given permission to stare at what’s left.
 

Casino, 2013
 

Chinese Take-Out, 2013
 

Subway, 2012
 

Beauty Shop, 2010
 

Mall, 2010
 
More of Lori Nix’s dollhouses of doom after the jump…

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Posted by Amber Frost
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10.31.2014
09:58 am
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