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Eloise Thompson gets a close-up look at a miniature Mardi Gras decoration that includes a queen outfitted in a gown made to look like the one worn by her great-grandmother when she was crowned. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)

Eloise Thompson gets a close-up look at a miniature Mardi Gras decoration that includes a queen outfitted in a gown made to look like the one worn by her great-grandmother when she was crowned. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)

Savoy dollhouse a historical microcosm

Last Modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 11:21 AM

By Troy LaFleur / American Press By Rita LeBleu / American Press

Never has it been so easy to take a peek inside a Lake Charles historical home, find out about its beginnings and get a close-up look at its furnishings, décor and owners. This two-and-a-half story, pink clapboard home with teal shutters and cream-colored trim simply spins around on its special base to reveal the intriguing and punctilious world of its creator, Mary Savoy, lifelong Lake Charles resident and self-professed lover of small things.

“I had the dollhouse made 25 years ago for my granddaughter, Katie, by a retired engineer from Baton Rouge who built miniature houses,” she said. Savoy chose a design, but asked for an addition. “I had to have a dining room.” Each room is wired for electricity and fitted with diminutive chandeliers, lamps and wall sconces that glow when the switch is turned and yes, there are even miniature bulbs.

A leisurely examination of each of the items in the 11-room house (including the attic which has a layer of dust because attics aren’t dusted) could require days, but during the interview even Savoy’s very active great-granddaughter, Eloise, 3, demonstrated keen interest as she stood spellbound as her mother, Katie Thompson, and great-grandmother, Savoy, pointed out the highlights of the dollhouse — and even better, pulled some of the things out of the rooms for her to examine more closely.

It’s not actually a “play” dollhouse, but Savoy has involved the children and grandchildren in its decorating through the years and even added dinosaurs on one of the room’s shelves to interest Katie’s brother, Hank, who wasn’t a big fan of the itty bitty world. Katie remembers forming story plots in her mind regarding what was going on in the home. Savoy’s husband, Richard, generally advised family members to “give those people a little privacy for heavens sake,” Savoy said.

Mary’s appreciation of the arts and crafts, her love of family that includes lots of displayed family photos and a thorough knowledge of her families’ history, and her sense of humor can be found throughout the rooms of the dollhouse.

Her favorite piece of all — out of the hundreds to choose from — is the swinging white wicker bassinet that is a miniature replica of the one in her attic. “The life-sized cradle was bought by my grandmother for her new baby daughter, Inez Knapp Watkins, my mother, who was born in 1910,” Savoy said.

Actual, teensy family portraits and photographs are found throughout the rooms of the dollhouse, including wedding portraits and “Prien”-painted platters. “Each of us have one of these (actual-sized) platters in our homes,” Savoy said. Savoy’s cousin, Judy Russell, created these. (“Prien” is what the family calls the camp on Prien Lake that has been in Savoy’s family since 1910.)

The time period for the décor is late 1800s to early 1900s. Clothing on the small figures is Edwardian. A miniature petit point pillow stitched with Mary’s initials by her aunt, Evelyn Knapp Powell, seems far too small to hold, much less to have been stitched by hand. Savoy’s aunt also created the oil painting in the home’s sitting room.

In the kitchen, there’s a newspaper. The headline reads: “Knapp Advises Local Farmers to Plant Rice.” “That’s when my grandfather came to Lake Charles,” Savoy said, pointing to the date. (He was the well-known Iowan agriculturalist who helped bring rice to Louisiana as a cash crop.)

Today, dollhouse miniature hobbyists can easily satisfy their smallest desire online, but Savoy relied on specialty magazines when she got started. She has picked up miniatures through the years while traveling. Friends have also helped her outfit her little home. One picked up a miniature basket full of exotic fruit while traveling in Brazil. Another came home with a miniature box of “chocolats” from Switzerland.

She has two other miniatures, an Acadian-style home she purchased at a local arts and crafts show that she has furnished, and a Mardi Gras room that includes a figure dressed in a gown like the one worn by her mother when she was queen and crafted by Carolyn Chafin.

A small-scale gown made to look like one worn by a family member, familiar photos and art produced by relatives, and a cradle that looks like the same one that’s been used by six generations may be aspects of one of Savoy’s hobbies, but she’s made it into something much more. She has hit upon an ideal method for communicating the story of home and family to her granddaughter and now her great granddaughter with a medium that’s sure to be cherished for generations to come.

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