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01
Jul-2024

Collections Corner: Welcome to Elysian Fields!

Hello and welcome to Elysian Fields! My name is Audrey and I’m interning in the Wenham Museum’s collections for the summer. Entering the museum, I knew interns could take on projects based on their interests, but I was unsure where to start. The collections here are vast and rich with fascinating rabbit holes–each concealing a story. I didn’t know where to start until I was introduced to the Ellis Dollhouse and was immediately entranced by its intricacies. As an undergraduate hoping to pursue a career in art conservation and as a person who loves tiny things, I was over the moon when I got the green light to conduct a small conservation project on the home.

The Ellis Dollhouse on display at the Wenham Museum in August 1980

 

The Ellis Dollhouse in collections before the cleaning project in June 2024

When entering the Elysian Fields estate, you get a fitting prelude to the rest of the home. The classically grand colonial home’s exterior is white with kelly green shutters and multipaned windows. Guests are welcomed into a fresh and bright entryway, with the hand-painted white walls of stretching vines carrying ripe red fruits contrasting with the deep mahogany-colored wood. Under their feet lies elegant black and white marble checkerboard flooring reflecting the light from the hanging brass bird cage lamp and silver pewter wall sconces. The space is homey in an elevated sense, displaying both the wealth and spirit of its inhabitants. 

Front entryway and central staircase of the dollhouse

The construction of the house in itself was a genial affair. Eleanor Gwin Ellis of Marblehead, Massachusetts had a close friend, Harriet Bull. Gwin often admired the lovely dollhouses Harriet’s mother and aunt created during WWII. So much so that in early February of 1975, Harriet contacted Gwin about a dollhouse shell she had inherited from her late aunt. Gwin rushed to view the structure, a plywood shell built in 1925 scaled with each inch to the foot and featuring two large floors with removable partitions. On February 3rd, 1975, Gwin closed on the house, purchasing the structure for a whopping $500. The home was entitled Elysian Fields after Gwin’s last name Ellis, and as a contribution to the beginning of the Bicentennial, it would be modeled to inhabit a 1776 successful Marblehead sea captain and his family.  

Gwin spent four years renovating the home, purchasing furnishings, harnessing her miniature-making skills, and curating a hospitable, lived-in ambiance. The product is a marvelous home filled with wonderful teeny-tiny details. Though, after years on display, a few relocations, and some moving around of furniture, Elysian Fields is long overdue for some TLC. Especially after a flood hit the Wenham Museum a few years ago, forcing this dollhouse to have an impromptu relocation, some of its original interior details have been moved around. In this project, I intend to use archival records, research, and cleaning supplies to bring the estate back to its original glory while guiding you through all the attributes that make this model 18th-century home so wonderful. This dollhouse can be viewed by appointment only. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with collections1@wenhammuseum.org for more information. 

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