Since the dioramas are not open to the public, I thought I could best highlight both their intricacy and Glessner Lee’s attention to detail through a series of macro photographs. They were, after all, meant to be pored over and studied; difficult to do from a distance.
The more I researched Glessner Lee, and how she used these dolls’ houses, the more I began to appreciate the innovation of using a seemingly low-tech approach to forensics training.
Glessner Lee was convinced by criminological theory that crimes could be solved by detailed analysis of visual and material evidence and she drew upon her expertise in creating miniatures to develop dioramas that would help police detectives learn to identify and analyse forensic evidence. Material evidence at any given crime scene is overwhelming. But with the proper knowledge and techniques, she knew, investigators could be trained to identify, collect and analyse that evidence in a systematic fashion. Her point was not to solve the crime in the model, but to observe and notice important details and potential evidence; facts that could affect the investigation.
My favorite Nutshell, entitled, “Unpapered Bedroom,” illustrates this point nicely. It depicts a deceased woman, lying on her back in bed. Personal effects litter the room, every one potential evidence. Glessner Lee designed each one and placed it in its final position in the scene. This meant crafting the mundane, but also the out-of-place; if you lift up the pillow next to the body, you will find lipstick marks on the underside of the linen. It is a detail that may seem insignificant. But because women rarely go to bed wearing their makeup, it has huge implications.
Forensic science, by its very nature, is based on innovation and technology. Even in its nascent years, fingerprinting, toxicology, Bertillon identification and mug shots relied on and spawned other incredible advancements in forensic technology. What, then, is the innovation in a doll’s house?