Sunday, January 27, 2013

Collector creates 1840s New Orleans

A dollhouse gets miniature makeover

Mary Rickard By Mary Rickard 
IT'S A SMALL WORLD: In her everyday life, Cheryl Teamer is a respected lawyer, nonprofit board member, church volunteer and neighborhood supporter. But, at home, she indulges in a little fantasy world all her own. 
Cheryl Teamer doll house 2013
EnlargeCheryl Teamer, holding her dog, Sophie, stands next to her current project, a 29-inch-tall house depicting 1840s domestic life in New Orleans.Cheryl Teamer's 1840s New Orleans dollhouse gallery (6 photos)

Since childhood, Teamer has loved building dollhouses. Her current project is a 29-inch-tall house depicting domestic life in 1840s New Orleans. Specifically, the setting is No. 10 Rue St. Ann, home of nine Creole free women of color in the process of preparing an elaborate Reveillon dinner for New Year's Eve.
"The house belongs to a fictitious family of determined women who made the most of their situations," Teamer said, explaining her 19th-century vignette.
The educated and bilingual women, known as "placées," were kept in style by wealthy French or Spanish gentlemen of means. By 1788, there were 1,500 "gens de couleurs libres" in plaçage common-law marriages, said Teamer, who has made a study of this facet of New Orleans history.
"When I started designing the house, I started wondering what their lives would be like," she said.
A TIME AND PLACE: Teamer sets the stage at the time when New Orleans was the largest city in the South, at the peak of its prosperity. "New Orleans was vibrant, with people coming from the North, East and the Caribbean," she said.

The dollhouse's formal dining table is set with ceramic china, including a whole turkey, a platter of fish, a pot of gumbo, oysters on the half shell, crystal goblets, silverware and brass candelabra.
Awaiting the revelers are appetizers of iced boiled shrimp on a silver service set, a platter of cheeses (crafted by Tiny Towne Hawaii) and a display of fresh fruit (made by Reutter Porcelain of Germany).
One doll dressed in a pleated, floor-length satin skirt holds a glass of claret. Other ladies are wearing hoop-skirt dresses with prominent bustles of elegant fabrics and lace.
"For the collector, everything is in the detail," Teamer said.
A music stand and an open violin case show more preparation for the evening's festivities. The children's room and old-fashioned wooden playthings are out of the way in the attic. At the front door, a finely dressed gentleman is being welcomed.
"The joy is trying to make it really real," Teamer said.
TREASURE HUNT: Teamer researches miniatures in books, such as "Magnificent Miniatures," and New Orleans architecture in volumes such as "The Majesty of St. Charles," among others. She buys furnishings and accoutrements from Bespaq Fine Miniatures and Collectables, a world-famous manufacturer, at a range of locations: on eBay, at trade shows and at The Black Butterfly, a French Quarter shop.
"I looked all over the country for wrought-iron fences, because they define us," Teamer said.
She started with a Gingerbread Victorian kit from a Baton Rouge crafts store, but she completely remodeled the dollhouse to fit the period, decorating with Persian-style carpets, reproductions of vintage French wallpapers and fireplaces made in Germany. She hand-painted molding and ceiling medallions.
"The Degas House on Esplanade was my inspiration," Teamer said of the Esplanade Ridge Creole mansion where the renowned French Impressionist painter visited his maternal family, the Mussons.
"I spend a lot of time driving around New Orleans looking at homes," Teamer said with a laugh.
"I love the challenge of selecting a time period, theme and design for a project and seeing it come to life. I spend hours researching details about the time period, including clothing, furniture, food and lifestyle," she said.
AFTER THE FLOOD: A dollhouse that Teamer spent 15 years designing was destroyed when her Lakeview home flooded after Hurricane Katrina. That model was three stories high and the size of a dining room table.
It took a year before she could summon the courage to start over, she said. Her father, Charles Teamer, helped with a down payment.
"You should get back to your hobby," he said.
Focusing on her new dollhouse provided stress relief, Cheryl Teamer said.
Susannah Mirpuri, who owned a doll store on Jackson Square, said dollhouses remind people of a simpler time when they were children and had no worries. "They reach for the happiest times in their lives," she said.
Collecting miniatures is an old hobby that has fascinated people for thousands of years, said Myra Landry who with her brother, Norbert, owns The Black Butterfly in the French Quarter. The Landry family has been in the miniature business for 120 years, since their grandfather Alfonse-Simon Lopes opened a store in 1894 on Royal Street.
The Black Butterfly gets inquiries and orders for specific miniatures from all over the world. A tea set can run anywhere from $20 to $500 for one made from Limoges china, Landry said.
Teamer said she enjoys seeing the work others have put into dollhouses.
"One of my goals is to get to Windsor Castle," she said. The castle in Berkshire, England, has a dollhouse built by the finest craftsmen for Queen Mary, wife of King George V, and depicts how royalty lived in the 1920s.

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