Christmas Memories – The Thorne Miniature Rooms

Checking out one of the many Thorne Rooms

When I was a girl living in Minneapolis, we often visited our grandparents in Oak Park and Deerfield for Christmas.  What fun we had!  I remember marveling at the holiday windows in the department stores, visiting Santa Claus at Cloud Cottage at Marshall Field’s, and celebrating two Christmases with family – one on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas morning.

One of my favorite places to go was the Art Institute of Chicago, which was home to a magical exhibit for imaginative girls like me.  The Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute were reproductions of historical European and American rooms.  Set into the walls of the exhibition hall, each room was amazingly detailed.  I was partial to the early American rooms; they reminded me of my own dollhouse and the furniture my Dad had made for me.  We always returned home inspired by what we’d seen.

Early this December I visited the Thorne Rooms with my husband and my mother.  We were eager to see how some of the rooms had been decorated for the holidays – a new custom that started just last year.  A traditional Christmas tree stands proudly on a table in a Victorian parlor.  A Hanukkah menorah and tiny blue and white packages adorn a modern room; there’s even a teeny dreidel and some Hanukkah gelt on the carpet!  Our favorite was the Southwest Room decorated with the finest paper garlands and plates of goodies, including tamales and pine nut cookies.  The holiday display will be up through January 7.

Modern room decorated for Hanukkah

Southwestern Room with decorations

If you can’t visit the rooms in person, you can see some of them online at

There is even a game to play called Escape the Mansion.  Move your mouse around the screen and click to find your way out.  You will be amazed at what each room holds.

Come to the library and check out The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone.  In it two children discover a way to make themselves small enough to explore the Thorne Rooms.  They have quite an adventure in the exhibit.  A second book, Stealing Magic, will be available in January.

-Miss Wendy

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