When you think about it, this city has a long tradition of doll shows – from Punch and Judy shows in Covent Garden to Madame Tussauds waxworks.
A hidden gem of its kind is found in the Ealing area of Haven Green; Founded in 2008, the International Dollhouse Museum is the personal collection of Nousha Pakpour Samari, BEM.
As I enter the origami-decorated lobby, sporting a few doll crates alongside wicker accessory boxes, I wonder if this is the entire collection. In fact, there are over 300 dolls here, and Nousha leads me into an unassuming wardrobe, opening the portal to the doll kingdom…
Crate after crate is filled with everything from puppets to plastic miniatures, all beaming through the glass. There are porcelain dolls with velvet parasols, figurines in rural attire, and dolls on rocking horses – all watched over by a miniature nun named Teresa.
By the way, the “International” title of the museum is due to the fact that many dolls are souvenirs from all over the world, dressed in the traditional dress of their country. A single shelf hosts specimens from Denmark, Jamaica, Poland and Hawaii, while their friends from Thailand, India and Wales are tucked below.
Nousha, 90, looking very glamorous in a leopard-print cape and culottes she sewed herself, tells us: “I started collecting dolls from Iran when I was a child and as I and as the collection grew, whenever a friend or someone staying at the hotel went abroad, I asked them to bring a doll back. So I collect, collect, collect.
Nousha refers to the Caspian Hotel attached to the museum which she runs as a family business with her son Samander, and which featured in the Hotel Inspector series in 2012.
“We get between 20 and 25 visitors each week, it’s a great opportunity for children to learn about other cultures and see traditional toys,” says Dr Kay, a family friend who volunteers at the museum. free and just finished writing Nousha. autobiography.
Nousha chimes in: “So many dolls and toys today are just plastic or electronics. It’s good that children can use their imagination.
The retired hairdresser and active fashion designer uses her own imagination to design her doll’s stories, beginning each story with “It’s a long story.” Three dolls on a sofa are recovering from losing their legs in a car accident, which Nousha demonstrates by flipping layers of tulle petticoats.
Another case of dolls is at a dinner prepared by a chef, while two teddy bears are on their honeymoon.
Opening a drawer, Nousha explains that these dolls are sleeping, while another display shows a doll lying down and a doll standing with a sign reading: “These dolls went to the pub and a doll got very drunk and fell asleep and the other doll is wide awake. taken care of her”.
As she guides me to the main room, Nousha shares that she moved to the UK in 1960 with her six-month-old daughter, Guissa, to learn how to do the hair waves popular at the time. Her husband and son followed soon after. His homeland figures prominently in his collection; there is a shelf of Persian dolls all decked out in clothing native to the Bakhtiari tradition, with beaded headdresses. There is also a male Persian doll in a kurta and galesh. This troop has its own samovar in case it gets thirsty.
Although souvenir dolls and frilly porcelain creations make up a large part of the museum, there are also plenty of modern additions: lazy Barbies in hammocks, monkey puppets and even a “doll surprise” that the yours received for his seventh birthday. Nousha excitedly shows me a castle that lights up and a singing dog that activates when its paw is pressed. The surprises and delights are endless.
As a dollhouse museum, there’s a whole wall displaying different designs, some relatively new painted in bright colors and some classic Victorian ones with wooden deck chairs and tiny tubs. In the back room are four dollhouses decorated to reflect the four seasons, though I’m not sure why Spring has a faux leopard skin rug on the roof.
When we come to a case with handmade cloth dolls, Nousha proudly explains that they were made by the Lady’s Creative Center which she officially founded in 1990, but its origins go back more than 50 years.
“It’s a long story,” explains Nousha, “When we first came to this country, people said, ‘Oh, you’re a refugee,’ and we were looked down upon. I said, ‘No, in Iran, we were women.’ We had the hotel and people started coming, a lot of them didn’t speak English well, so we helped them learn and taught them things like cooking, sewing and other skills, and we built a community.”
A wall in the lobby is dedicated to Nousha’s phenomenal accomplishments, from newspaper articles documenting her charitable work to images of her hair designs and board certificates of appreciation. She has led an incredible life and the museum is just one of the ways she brings support and joy to others.
The International Dollhouse Museum is very similar to the city it inhabits. A melting pot of cultures and a hive of activity. There are dolls in wedding dresses, dolls that go dancing, and dolls that sing songs. There are Camden punks next to distinguished Kensington grandmothers and everything in between.
As I trotted around with a signed copy of Nouha’s Vertex booklet, I wonder what’s next for the museum and its founder. Something tells me it’s going to be a long story.
International Dollhouse MuseumEaling, open every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., free admission