1930s industry: A world in miniature

In the 1930s the Commercial Museum and the American ceramics company Lenox made a series of miniature dioramas to illustrate the process of making the company’s popular wares, step by step.  The Temple Anthropology Lab acquired 6 of the 8 models as part of the Commercial Museum collection.  Some of the dioramas were featured in the museum’s  periodical, Commercial America in 1936, which was “published monthly… for the purpose of carrying to buyers throughout the world reliable information concerning American products.”  There was also a Spanish version of this publication.

Commercial Museum artist C. Isabel Campbell made the dioramas, which are approximately 24″ long, 15″ high, and 8″ deep.  Scale is consistent in each scene and all human “models” are approximately 7″ high.  Careful attention was given to even the smallest details,  including the various tools used by the workers.

Each diorama depicts a particular aspect of the manufacturing process, including “Slip House,” “Jiggering,” “Firing,” “Glazing,” “Casting,” and “Decorating.”  “Decorating” is shown below.  The models and their furnishings occupy the foreground.  The background, painted carefully to maintain an accurate sense of perspective, is raised in sections to ease the eye from front to back and to maintain the integrity of the life-like scene of Lenox at work.

Lenox decorating

Here are detailed images taken from left to right:

lenox transfer

Here an employee has all the tools she needs to apply a transfer printed design.

lenox banded

This worker applies the popular painted bands. Notice the paint splattered water bottle to his right.

lenox painted

Floral motifs are painted by hand. Notice the gilded edge on the finished dinner plate.

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