Anatomy of home
A Dolls house and animation project
My family and I relocated to Cape Town from Gaborone Botswana in January 2016.
Anyone who has ever done that will have an inkling of the ramifications.
Launching into renovations on arrival coupled with arriving with way too much stuff for a significantly smaller home, meant we did not unpack all of our boxes for many months, including the contents of my studio, as there was no studio to unpack into.
What do you do when you need to work but have nowhere to do so, no access to your materials? What did I have access to? Cardboard boxes and left over white enamel paint is what.
My brain seized on the idea of a dolls house and would not let it go. A doll’s house? Me? Really?
So in mid Cape Town winter 2016, in a tiny space cleared on the veranda, cardboard boxes and craft knife in hand, I started making furniture. I had no idea how to do any of it!
The funny thing is it reflected my reality in so many ways. Unable to unpack, settle in and make a home in reality, I guess I made one in miniature. The doll’s house in no way resembles my own by the way! In fact it’s probably the opposite in many ways. In reality I am adjusting from a large house to a small one, while making a dolls house with rooms I will probably never have again.
My brain worm conversation around making the house went in a hundred directions though, serving as a kind of therapy. Which is what a dolls house is.
For me this project it has taken me through a difficult year and a half of loss and mourning for a Son and a country I called home for nearly 17 years. It has given me a creative outlet in a new environment that has had many lessons to teach.
When I was little I inherited the doll’s house from heaven from my Aunt Joan. I lived in the thing for most of my childhood, as did she.
My Grandmother died when Joan was a little girl and my Grandad had the doll’s house made by the mine carpenter in the Eastern Transvaal. My Mom often said it saved her. If she played in it in any way like I did, and I’m sure she did, the house was the stage for a hundred dramas acted out by the doll family.
It was the best creative outlet then as now, making furniture out of wooden pegs with my Mother, rearranging it all again and again. I think the doll’s house was the foundation to many visual skills I developed that have stood me in good stead. And of course, my mother is a well-known doll artist extraordinaire, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that the bug bit and manifested a thing such as this. Toys and dolls are a big part of where I come from. But that’s another story.
So back to making something from nothing, this was such a fun challenge. Like any artist I have a box of stuff-that-I-might-use-one-day. I nearly threw it out when packing to move and I’m so glad I didn’t. I’m talking about stuff like old doorknobs, beads, bobbles and general junk, you know? This was an invaluable resource for finishes. I also had access to my nail polishes and fabric box. What more can you need? Well, how about empty wine cartons, biscuit boxes, milk and water bottles, bottle caps, paper clips, vitamin containers, pipe cleaners, those awful spongy pads from sports bras and shoulder pads, an old place-mat, vintage hankies, cup hooks, toothpicks and Kebab sticks and glue. Lots and lots of glue.
In fact I made rules to keep it challenging; only found and recycled objects allowed, for the most part anyway. The exception is of course the house itself which was made by a carpenter as that was beyond me.
The doll characters in the house began with using my wooden artists model for scale. She was my 13th birthday gift from my Mother. Over the many years since, she lost a foot and became generally battered. She naturally became part of the project, getting a make over of her own. Of course she couldn't be alone in this great big family home, so she had 3 children. Like my own, her husband works in Johannesburg and is conspicuous by his absence. Ce la vie, migrant workers are nothing new. The initial rules for them were, their clothing was made from those mysterious single socks that happen in all homes but I did feel compelled to add another outfit each.
As I gained access to my paints and materials the house took on more colour. What a great coincidence that Checkers has been running a mini grocery campaign for much of the last year, so the kitchen cupboard and fridge is very well stocked. Better than my own for sure!
I also made a lot of food; cakes, pies, bread, fish, salad and so on, made from paper clay and painted. The house is also fully equipped with plates, bowls, pots and pans and glasses. These made from things like bottle tops, gelatin capsules and paper clay. It even has cutlery!
The pièce de résistance was a poster book of William Morris wallpapers that I have been dying to find a way to use for years. The William Morris designs are really central to my house. With furniture mostly all white, and in some cases quite rough and wobbly, these are gems of colour and pattern that have for a century made ordinary homes special and beautiful. Like all art, they elevate any space from ordinary to special.
One day, I picture a child; similar to myself at a young age, with a creative urge and a wide open mind, a child that will be fascinated not only by the potential for play but also the idea of making, doing, creating and adding to the house in their own way.
A child that may want to know that William Morris was the Grandfather of interior design with his wall paper and carpets, these things transforming drab interiors of middle class homes that had never seen such colour before.
He reflected the exposure that ordinary people were experiencing for the first time due to the travel and exploration of the 1700’s. From botanists bringing exotic specimens from the new world to the suburban garden , to ships bringing tea, fabrics, artifacts and other plunder from newly discovered places to the public domain. All of these new things from places like China, Japan, the Americas, Africa and India to name but a few, were being adopted into daily life; emanated, adapted, copied, ultimately finding a permanent place in the domestic environments we have today.
The modern home is a result of complicated human evolution; of expansion, invasion, appropriation, exploitation, genius, hate, love, wonder, theft, curiosity, all that makes humans so very terrifying and beautiful.
In my house there are original artworks and some classic prints. I love the Carl Larson painting in the nursery, so nostalgic and idealistic a depiction of childhood. The lounge boasts original oil paintings as does the bedroom, these are portraits. There are various other paintings dotted about. I have also included some original ceramic decorative tiles made by my Aunt and a carved avocado pip bird in the lounge made by my Mother. The dining room has antique plates from Germany and Japan on the walls, taken from an antiques magazine. The details are too many to mention, I think the pictures speak best on this.
The exterior of the house has been painted and slightly weathered to resemble the Victorian houses in my neighborhood. I wanted it to be a Cape Town house which has survived many seasons. The windows are glazed in an opaque plastic, giving the house a film set like feel, diffusing the light and eliminating the visual clutter of views beyond the house.
I have created a wonderful little world that has been such fun to make. I so look forward to finding out who I made it for.
While it still belongs to me, I have been making little video stories using various social media apps, I do hope you enjoy them. They can be viewed on my Instagram account: nicola_holgate.
Various views and details of family life
Specifications and ways to play