A labor of love has become a legacy of love, thanks to a generous donation to the Nassau County Museum of Art from the husband of a truly remarkable woman.
Madeleine “Tee” Ridder (1926-1991) may have begun making miniatures as a hobby, but she became a fine artist, functioning as architect, contractor and interior designer for more than 100 miniature rooms. In her memory, her husband, Eric, donated the museum to the Nassau County Museum of Art to showcase his wife’s passion, superb taste and playful sense of humor, which she gave full reign in her art for the last 15 years of her life.
Born on her grandfather’s farm in Masontown, Pennsylvania, Tee became a world traveler. On her trips to Italy, England and even Africa, she recorded her impressions and manifested them in her rooms. She studied the styles of fabrics and furnishings on her trips and then commissioned miniature artists to make ceramics, furniture, lighting fixtures, carpeting and decorative objects that would accomplish her vision. Visitors to the Tee Ridder Miniatures Museum will marvel at beautiful Venetian glass, English porcelain, an electrified chandelier and even an 18th-century style harpsichord with an oil painting inside the lid.
Ridder’s rooms were built on a scale of one inch to one foot. Her commitment to veracity extended not only to the styles and decorations, but to the construction of each object. Even a minor fault in the scale of objects in a miniature room can easily be detected and alter the experience for viewers. For Ridder, each room was a place for her and those who saw it to inhabit. As one looks upon the rooms and their furnishings, something magical happens. Time seems to stop and the action shifts to an alternate world.
Some of the rooms are cozy and quaint; others take the viewer time traveling to perhaps another period or country. While viewing the Parisian bakeshop, for example, don’t be surprised if you smell the delectable scent of freshly baked baguettes. While elegance, fantasy, and refined comfort were obviously among Tee’s priorities, so was whimsy, touches that make looking at her rooms fun and cause people to chuckle and feel like children.
Visitors to the museum will also see Astolat Castle, a dollhouse castle designed and constructed by Colorado miniaturist Elaine Diehl. The castle is 9 feet tall, more than 5 feet wide and weighs 600 pounds. Inside are 29 rooms with 10 adjoining areas, staircases and hallways (and, yes, even a working elevator). There are independent electrical systems for miniature and indirect lighting, a weathered copper roof, fireplaces, parquet floors, chandeliers, wall sconces and a mind-boggling array of furnishings and accessories made by leading artisans in the field, including Warren Dick, Mary McGrath, Laurel Coulon and George Becker. Some pieces are antiques.
Diehl’s main impetus for Astolat came from Tennyson’s romantic poem, The Lady of the Lake, from the poet’s Idylls of the King, but the artist has incorporated an eclectic mix of inspirations from an “Oriental” style bedroom to a Victorian ballroom to the Wizard’s Tower and Observatory, reached by a winding staircase, at the very top where, of course, resides a wizard.
It took Diehl 13 years to construct the castle and an additional period to fill it with furnishings and decorations, with an estimated 6,000 hours of work. The artist displayed Astolat Castle in her own museum shop until 1996, when she retired.
The Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, located on a 145-acre estate with beautifully landscaped grounds, is a fitting setting for Ridder’s museum. The intimacy of her rooms is mirrored in the serene setting.
Children’s parties are a key feature of the museum. For more information on scheduling an event, call (516) 484-9338, ext. 15 or email Frances Diesu at email@example.com.
Tee Ridder Miniatures Museum
Nassau County Museum of Art
15 Museum Drive
Roslyn Harbor, NY 11576
Telephone: (516)484-9338, ext. 15
Web site: www.nassaumuseum.com