Posted Sunday morning, January 14, 2018.
“Detail from ‘Kitchen,’ [a miniature crime scene crafted by Frances Glessner Lee] around 1944-46. A pie is in progress. A housewife, with an ice tray at her side, is dead on the floor. The handles on the gas are turned on. Suicide — or murder? Credit Harvard University, via Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Baltimore.” Courtesy of the New York Times.
It was all I could do to keep myself from titling this post The Nutshell Series of Unfortunate Events. I also considered some play on the Ghashleycrumb Tinies. But this is serious stuff, he says, pretending he didn’t work in his ideas of jokes anyway. From the New York Times:
…The models, meticulously handcrafted by [Frances Glessner Lee], are known as ‘‘The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.’’ Nearly all are owned by the Harvard Medical School and on loan from the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where they live, and continue to teach, some 70 years on.
…The Nutshells are not only ingenious devices for the instruction of crime scene examiners, they are a body of imaginative work that would have established any artist’s career and place in art history.
Ms. Lee was not a schooled artist. She was a rich, frustrated woman in her 60s when she began them, and almost belligerent in her pursuit of a place in the infant field of forensic science. Lee shared its passion about the deceptions of crime and the need for truth in investigation. Entry to this professional realm was a double-locked door: men, and in particular police, held the keys. The majority of the victims in the Nutshells are women, found in their homes.
Lee’s minute scenes — the scale is one inch to one foot — are composites of actual cases, cleverly constructed to present a complex set of conflicting clues. Depicting everything from potential murder to suicide to accident, the Nutshells’ life and death subjects quickly eclipse their size. With their dollhouse detail, they are quaint, comfortably familiar. They are also an American tragedy: working men, housewives, babies in their cribs, the down-at-heel, the upright and elderly, families, lonely-hearts. A portrait of postwar American life.
All dead, or killers.
If you happen to be in D.C. in the next couple of weeks you can head on over to Smithsonian and see the Nutshell Series on exhibit in the American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery. The exhibit closes January 28. But right now you should read William L. Hamilton’s whole story about the Nutshells and their creator, “the first lady of forensic science.” Just follow the link to Heiress Plotted 19 Grisly Crimes. Investigation Underway at the New York Times. Plenty more pictures.