Downton Abbey for Dolls

By Louise Irvine

It’s a small world! It turns out that Judy Rudin, one of the organizers of Glam-a-THON, designs dollhouses and she has become a fan of Alex Meiklejohn’s miniature ceramics. Judy loaned part of her spectacular dollhouse to the museum to launch our Tiny Treasures Trail around the museum. Visitors are having fun searching for Alex’s mini works of art hidden around the museum and then admiring them in Judy’s amazing dollhouse.

Fans of the TV show Downton Abbey will be aware that there is often more happening “below stairs” than upstairs in the stately homes of England. Much of the action takes place in the butler’s pantry or the housekeeper’s room where the key household staff direct the servants to keep everything running smoothly. Judy Rudin has borne this in mind when creating the basement of Beacon Hill Manor, which can now be seen at WMODA.

There are 19 rooms in Judy’s magnificent Beacon Hill Manor, which can be viewed in her accompanying video. There is even a stable for the horses, which is how Judy got started with her hobby. When her sons were growing up, Judy had a ranch with quarter horses, and she built the boys a toy stable and general store. Her career as a fashion illustrator was on hold while she raised her family and she pursued many jobs and hobbies from her home studio, including chocolatier, events manager, and wedding planner. She even had her own wallpaper company.

Judy built her first dollhouse for a friend, and it was so successful that she began selling completed houses to support her family. She also taught others how to do it and was invited to present seminars on making dollhouses at Kutsher’s Country Club resort in the Catskill Mountains. Over the years, Judy inspired many others to take up the hobby. When she moved to Florida in 1987, she focused on many other interests, including her important work for Glam-a-THON, the charity that aims to #kissbreastcancergoodbye! The cancellation of events during COVID-19 left her with time on her hands and she got back into building dollhouses.

So far, Judy has built four dollhouses, one of which she donated to Broward Health Children’s Cancer Unit to entertain the young patients. In her words, she became “obsessed” and she joined all the dollhouse and miniatures clubs online where she has met “virtually everybody”. She watched demonstrations on how to make tiny furniture and sourced miniature décor from specialists all over the world. Her enthusiasm for her new virtual community supported her emotionally during the darkest hours of lockdown.

Most of Judy’s dollhouses are built and furnished in the traditional 1:12 scale of one inch to one foot but she has also made a very tiny house at 1:24. She bought her Beacon Hill mansion as a kit from Greenleaf Dollhouses and once assembled, she painted and decorated it in Victorian style with appropriate wallpapers and flooring. She made the wood floors with popsicle sticks and the textured walls of the wine cellar with styrofoam cups! She added the electric lights which are battery-powered and attached to the ceiling by magnets. She claims she has more tools than her sons!

There are 51 dolls “living” in the manor house, including the staff and it is their domain which is now at WMODA. The laundry maid is busy at work washing the family’s dirty linen. Judy often recycles family heirlooms and a corner of her mother’s tablecloth is now in the laundry. The wine cellar is fully stocked with tiny bottles and the owner of the house is making his selection for dinner. The housekeeper is relaxing in her bedroom with her cat curled at her feet. Some of Alex’s tiny ceramics can be seen on her shelves, including a teapot, mug, and blue and white cake crock. The adjacent maid’s room has one of Alex’s jug and basin toilet sets, which were widely used in Victorian times before indoor plumbing became the norm for washing.

Judy’s houses are never completely finished and she adds new pieces when she comes across them. She added Alex’s butter churn to the Beacon Hill kitchen along with one of his mortar and pestle sets for grinding herbs. Maybe she will include one of Alex’s beetle traps which have just arrived at WMODA. These were once indispensable in Victorian homes to trap cockroaches and were made in stoneware by companies such as Royal Doulton.

Alex Meiklejohn has specialized in making miniature ceramics for the last 30 years and he has exhibited his tiny treasures at specialist craft shows around the States. His work has been avidly collected for shadowboxes and dollhouses and they were featured regularly in Miniature Collector magazine. Alex throws his miniatures “off the hump” on the potter’s wheel, which allows him to make multiples of small forms quickly. He has demonstrated his technique at our museum events including the WMODA Treasure Hunt, where we launched the Tiny Treasures Trail. Alex drew pictures of his miniatures for the pirate’s map and his tiny pieces are hidden among the regular-sized ceramic art on display in the museum cabinets.

Judy’s next project is a miniature French Chateau inspired by the British TV reality show series Escape to the Chateau, which became compulsive viewing for her during the lockdown. She has started building the kit and plans to visit the real-life restored castle in France as soon as it is safe to travel.

Read more about Alex Meiklejohn’s work...
Tiny Treasures

Read about famous dollhouses...
Museums in Miniature