Savoy dollhouse a historical microcosm

By 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.