Dollhouses create domestic scenes, but not always the idealized kind

An exhibition in West Concord’s Bradford Mill includes (clockwise from upper left) a vintage doll house by Retro-craft Design,  “Clutter Along the Way” by Kate Benson, and “First the Doll House, Then the Mill”  by Frank Mazzola Jr.
An exhibition in West Concord’s Bradford Mill includes (clockwise from upper left) a vintage doll house by Retro-craft Design, “Clutter Along the Way” by Kate Benson, and “First the Doll House, Then the Mill” by Frank Mazzola Jr. Ann Sussman

Artist Ann Sussman started thinking about doll houses when she found some long-abandoned promotional materials while cleaning out the attic of an antique house she was selling.

The materials, made by the Sunbeam Bread Co., were a series of paper-doll cutouts, and Sussman became intrigued by the campaign’s intent to woo customers through the use of little narrative scenarios involving the paper dolls.

“It made me think about how playing with doll houses is not really about houses; it’s about narrative, about the stories we tell ourselves as we move these little people around,” Sussman said.

Sussman, who now lives in Concord and has studio space at a West Concord artists’ collaborative, ArtScape at Bradford Mill, soon discovered that other artists she knew were interested in doll houses also.


Lisa Berland and her sister Laura, co-owners of a furniture restoration business called Retrocraft Design, even had a few in their inventory.

Sussman and the two Berlands have curated an exhibition called “The Doll House Show,” now on display at the Bradford Mill complex. It includes contributions by eight other local artists who explore varied interpretations on the theme of doll houses.

The scenes in the exhibition are not all typical doll-house portrayals of idealized domesticity. One shows a pack-rat’s house; another depicts a foreclosure. Among the contributing artists is painter Frank Mazzola Jr. of Wellesley, who was recruited for the exhibition with the intent of bringing in a male sensibility.

When the curators first approached him, said Mazzola, “I thought, doll houses? That’s way out of my comfort zone. I didn’t play with dolls as a kid; I played with GI Joes.”

And then a light bulb went off as Mazzola made the connection: When he and the other neighborhood boys staged battles and retreats with their toy soldiers, it was perhaps not all that different from doll-house play after all. He created an oil painting called “First the Doll House, Then the Mill,” in which a doll looks out from a window of a house surrounded by toy soldiers all taking aim, while a stuffed animal on the second floor sits next to a peace sign.


“That’s the way we played as kids,” Mazzola said. “I grew up during the Vietnam War, and my friends and I played at re-creating the scenes we saw on the evening news. As the only male artist in this show, I liked the idea of this somewhat contradictory interpretation of the theme.”

One of the participants in the show, sculptor Kate Benson describes her typical work as “small architectural structures with interior scenes that reference doll houses.

“I choose to work in the miniature scale because it creates a familiar experience for most viewers, and it engages their curiosity as they peer through the viewpoints I have created,” she said.

“I intentionally limit those opportunities and don’t include figures in my work, as I want the spaces to inspire personal narratives and provoke questions about how people affect the spaces we occupy, physically and emotionally.”

Lisa Berland said she believes that whether the scene is one of peaceful domesticity, upheaval, or even war, there’s something inherently compelling about the world created by doll houses.

“It’s fascinating to look at a little miniaturized environment,” she said. “People have a natural desire to peek into another world. Doll houses are like having a pinhole view into a domestic scene. And that becomes a palette for the imagination, a chance to create a story about what’s going on inside the house.”


“The Doll House Show” is on exhibit in the second-floor gallery space at Bradford Mill, 33-43 Bradford St. in West Concord, through Aug. 28. Hours are weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

AT THE BANDSTAND: The Friends of the Shrewsbury Public Library will present a free bandstand concert by the Blackstone Valley Blue Grass Band on Thursday at 6 p.m. on the downtown common.

Picnicking and lawn chairs are encouraged. In the event of rain, the concert will be moved inside the Senior Center, 98 Maple Ave.

MUSICAL THEATER: Indian Hill Music School’s Children’s Summer Musical Theater, in partnership with ArtsNashoba, presents four fully staged performances of “Into the Woods Jr.,” a version of Stephen Sondheim’s fractured fairy tale featuring many familiar characters in unfamiliar situations.

The musical will be performed Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m. at 36 King St. in Littleton. In addition, a special performance for families with members on the autism spectrum or with special needs will take place on Friday at 11 a.m. Adjustments made for this free show include a “quiet room,” specially trained staff on site, and wheelchair accessibility. Preregister for the special performance by e-mailing romy@ indianhillmusic.org or calling 978-486-9524, ext. 108.


Tickets to the other performances are $10, and can be ordered at 978-486-9524, ext. 116, or www.indianhillmusic.org.

A PLAY IN THE GARDEN: Two Paths Productions, an entirely student-run organization, is presenting “Figaro Gets Divorced,” an original two-character play told from the perspective of a young woman coming to terms with her past and making decisions about her future.

Performances are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Garden in the Woods, 180 Hemenway Road in Framingham.

Tickets are $3 for adults, $1 for children. Go to www.twopathsproductions.com for more information.

1960s REDUX: Joan Cleary and her Feel the Love band will play songs from the 1960s — Hendrix, Donovan, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, Kinks, Beatles — Saturday at 7 p.m. on the patio at the Bull Run restaurant, 215 Great Road in Shirley.

Patrons can begin their evening at 6 p.m. with dinner and cocktails. In case of rain, the “So Groovy Now’’ concert will be moved indoors.

Tickets are $12; to purchase in advance or for more information, visit www.bullrunrestaurant.com, or call 978-425-4311.

IN LOCAL GALLERIES: Gallery 93 in the Brookline Senior Center presents “Wide Awake & Dreaming,” paintings by Brookline artist C.J. Lori, on exhibit through Sept. 26. Lori’s work reflects her interest in literature, anthropology, and psychology, as well her fascination with the natural world, exploring the complex relationship between humanity and the environment. Gallery 93, at 93 Winchester St., is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.


The Boston Camera Club is featuring works by its members during a show this month at the Framingham Public Library, 49 Lexington St. A public reception will be held on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. For hours and more information, call 508-532-5570 or go to www.framinghamlibrary.org.

Send ideas to nancyswest@ gmail.com.