A fixture in the home of the late Kay and Russ Heikes residence of Vermillion has a new home – the W.H. Over Museum.
A two-story dollhouse, built in meticulous detail by Kay, is now a permanent exhibit at the museum, and was on full display during the Christmas festival held there Dec. 6.
"I think in the late '50s and early '60s, it was kind of a fad for women to have doll houses, and she built this, and furnished it," Maxine Johnson, president of the W.H. Over Museum council, said. "I think she carved some of the furniture. We replaced some of the rugs, but she had actually crocheted all of those. The bedding was all created by Kay; they have the Heikes monogram on them, and we saved those."
The dollhouse originally was located in the kitchen of Kay's home. After she passed away, Johnson said, her sons stored the house in a shed on the family farm. It got rather dirty while in storage, but the staff at the W.H. Over Museum have been able to restore it to its original luster.
The structure itself remains sound. Everything one sees when viewing the dollhouse, except for a few tiny items, like rugs, are original. It simply needed a good cleaning before being put back on display.
"There's enough hot glue in this little building to withstand a hurricane," Johnson said, laughing. "It will never blow away. We just cleaned it up and refurbished it."
The W.H. Museum obtained the dollhouse in early November.
"We discussed what we wanted to do with it," Gene Iverson, a member of the W.H. Over Museum board, said. "We planned it out first, and once we got going on the project it really didn't take long to get the work done."
"I knew this house when Kay had it, and she would decorate it every holiday," Johnson said. "You can still see the nail holes from the lights she would put on it. I'm just elated that the house hadn't been thrown away and that we did get to have it. I am very happy about that."
Kay and her husband Russ were long-time Vermillion residents. She worked as a registered nurse.
"She was very Norwegian, very creative, all of the little carvings that you see with the house are hers; she did a lot of fine wood carving. She even wrote a little poem about this house – she really liked it," Johnson said.
Some people may at first get the impression that Kay may have built the dollhouse as a source of pleasure for children in the family.
This small-scaled, very detailed structure, however, served as a way for her to express her creativity and craftsmanship. Everything about the house, from the windows that open and close, to the tiny shingles that cover the roof, demonstrate that Kay was a stickler for detail.
"I don't think a child ever played with it," Johnson said.
In fact, it likely would have been difficult for a youngster to reach the miniature structure. Kay uniquely displayed the dollhouse in her kitchen by hanging it from the ceiling.
"She had a pulley system, and hooks in the dollhouse that would allow her to lower it and then decorate it or make additions to the furnishings," Iverson said.
"This was an ongoing project," Johnson said. "I know that she didn't just build this and then was done with it. It was always an ongoing project for her. If you look closely, you can see tiny candleholders on the walls, and even tiny pictures on the walls. I think the pictures are of her family, but they are so little, you can't tell for sure."
The house includes a kitchen, a formal dining room, a sitting room, a bathroom, and two bedrooms.
One room on the main floor of the house, Johnson believes, is designed to be a sunroom. With the holidays approaching, the museum staff decided to transform it into a Christmas room.
"When Maxine first brought it in and showed it to us, it was awfully dusty," Iverson said. "So, it sat for about a week or two before we even dared to touch it. But little by little, we let Maxine take it apart, and measured it, and we decided that we wanted to display it, and have it so that kids would be able to look at it, but we know youngsters would be tempted to touch things and move things, and get their fingers on it."
The museum solved that problem by enclosing the house in clear plastic. It rests on a display case built by Iverson that includes casters, making it possible for any member of the museum staff to move the dollhouse to any part of the museum.
"The house is incredible," Iverson said. "It even includes casement windows that you can move up and down."
Johnson is astounded by the sturdy nature of the house, which is approximately 50 years old.
"My daughter had a metal dollhouse, and they're no fun at all, because nothing stands up on the floors, and they bend," she said. "I never had a dollhouse of my own, and I always wanted one, and I was really taken by this.
"This would be a fun dollhouse to have if you are a little girl. You could really, really have good times with it. The doors all open. The windows all open and close. It's just fantastic," she said.