My name is Marianne Malone, I am new to the world of blog-writing and book publishing, and Powell's has generously invited me to use this space to introduce myself. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and now live in the college town of Urbana, Illinois, where my husband and I raised our three children.
My first book is just out, The Sixty-Eight Rooms, which came about after a day of teaching (I taught art for a decade in an all-girls middle school). I had taken a quick nap and woke up with two characters in my head and the outline of the story. A few weeks prior to that nap, I'd been talking to my daughters, both in their twenties, about the Thorne Rooms and how much we all loved them, so clearly part of my brain had been working on the idea, unbeknownst to me.
Chances are, if you live in or near Chicago, or have gone a fieldtrip to the Art Institute in the past 50 years, you know about the Thorne Rooms, the set of sixty-eight miniature period rooms, perfectly crafted down to the smallest detail. They were created in the 1930s and 40s by a woman named Narcissa Niblack Thorne and have been a permanent installation in the museum since the 1950s. She said she created them to be used as an educational tool, to learn the design styles of different periods. But I don't really believe that — in fact, she took many liberties with the accuracy of the recreations. She had collected miniatures since childhood; what child collects them to learn about historic design trends? I think she was simply obsessed with rooms and miniatures and was onto something when she began the project, even if she didn't know it or admit it herself. Miniatures and doll houses tap into something deep in many of us.
What fascinates me about the rooms is their staying power. Every time I have visited the exhibition, the experience has been virtually the same: I feel utter amazement at Mrs. Thorne's complete vision, and at the ability of the rooms to capture and drawn you in. It happens every time and not just to me — all viewers, young and old, appear to be in awe, gazing into the rooms. I think a lot about the experiences we have in museums, in movie theatres, in reading fiction; the power of fantasy to remove you in time a space. I should add video games, I suppose, to that list although I can't speak first-hand about them. Perhaps Mrs. Thorne would have been a game designer if she'd been born in the computer age. But somehow I think not. What the rooms do, in their quiet, timeless stillness, is provide a place for one's own fantasies to roam. Every kid who's ever built a dollhouse or a back-yard fort knows this. It seems to me a very important aspect of life, and not just childhood. In writing The Sixty-Eight Rooms, I had a great time delving back into the memory of these impulses from my own childhood.
You can take a look at a complete set of photos of the Thorne Rooms here.
You can learn more about me here