The Day the World Shrunk

At the Art Institute of Chicago, there is a section of miniatures, displaying these miniature replications of room styles of the United States. It’s almost too precious to take seriously, but there is such painstaking detail in each one, and such historical quaintness to them that I was moved. If you enjoy a dollhouse, and who doesn’t, this is the place for you. I can’t give you an accurate scale (they frown up visitors trying to get a hand behind the displays, go figure) but these are about a foot and half of cubic space. It turns out that lot of really tiny things can fit in that kind of room.

Something about these rooms appeals to me. Maybe it’s their pristine order and immaculate execution. They can never be messed up because they aren’t real. No one has to live in them, tracking in mud from a spring day or leaving a dish on the counter (guilty and guilty). They stand here suspended in time, these little glimpses of perfection.

Be sure to notice the lighting in each of these. It manages to capture a certain point in the day, and then hold it there. How often have we tried to still time like that, to freeze a frame or a moment that we wish would go on for just a bit longer?

These little rooms do that. While the rest of the world rushes by them, they stay forever in place, forever young. As the chubby digits of little kids smear their grease and dirt across the viewing panes, the rooms stand stoically and unperturbed in their splendor.

My little window into Chicago is about to close. I will shrink the city into the smallest compartment I know – a memory – and it will reside there, unbothered and no longer bewildered by what came before.

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