CMOA’s Miniature Gallery

Did you know that the museum’s teeniest, tiniest rooms are tucked between two of the biggest? See the amber glow emanating from the dark portal behind the gothic cathedral? Let’s check it out!

 A large room with marble floors and large plaster models of architectural features from around the world
Hall of Architecture at Carnegie Museum of Art, 2017, Photo: Bryan Conley

The intimate, walnut-paneled Miniature Gallery sits in stark contrast to the huge, sky-lit Halls of Architecture and Sculpture on either side. Find your way into this hidden nook, and you’re rewarded with 11 luminous portals into wee worlds. Open to the public since 1969, the gallery was designed by Pittsburgh architect Delbert Highlands to house a collection of 350 diminutive objects donated by museum patron Sarah Mellon Scaife.

A dimly lit, wood-paneled room with small lit up boxes featuring miniature furnished rooms
Hall of Miniatures at Carnegie Museum of Art, 2020, Photo: Bryan Conley

There are two types of rooms in the Miniature Gallery: reproductions and museum displays. This dining room is one of three reproductions that Mrs. Scaife commissioned around 1950. It was made by a New York gallery and interior decorator, French & Company, as a tiny copy of the actual dining room at Penguin Court, the Scaife residence in Ligonier, PA. Although it is impressively realistic, there are a few clues that the room is only a foot tall. Can you spot anything amiss?

(Hint: Look at the tilting chandelier and the huge embroidery stitches in the chair cushions.)

An opulent dining room with a table, fireplace and chandelier crafted out of miniature models
French & Company; Assorted Miniatures, ca. 1950; Carnegie Museum of Art: Bequest of Sarah Mellon Scaife

Other “rooms” in the Miniature Gallery are simply display cases, blank boxes built by the museum and filled with antique furnishings like these petite sideboards lined with silver plates, tankards, and sundry utensils. These miniscule objects were made in earlier centuries by the same artisans—cabinetmakers or silversmiths—who would have made their full-sized counterparts. Although they’re sometimes described as samples, they were likely toys—delightful trinkets made to delight adults as much as children.

A lit box set inside a wood-paneled wall with miniature models of sideboards filled with dining ware
Installation view of Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Miniatures, 2020, Photo: Bryan Conley

Making miniature objects required skilled artisanal labor, employing the same techniques and materials (albeit in smaller quantities) as full-sized furnishings. And just in case you aren’t convinced that these are miniatures—here’s a No. 2 pencil for reference.

Next time you visit the museum, take a look at the incredible craftsmanship at an adorable scale!

Miniature dining table and cabinet with a no. 2 pencil stood up next to them for scale, the dining table coming up to half the height of the pencil and the cabinet being a little less than twice the height of the pencil
Installation view of Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Miniatures, 2020, Photo: Bryan Conley