March 14, 2009

death in a nutshell

My brain is wired in such a way that I'm driven to distraction by pretty much anything rendered in miniature. Miniature furniture, mini household accessories, mini liquor bottles (I blame Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone for that one) salesman samples, what have you, I love a mini. I also have a bit of a thing for the macabre. The macabr-er the better.

So you can imagine how the discovery of this book a few years ago sent my synapses a-twittering. "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" is a luscious series of gruesome miniature murder scenes beautifully photographed by Corrine May Botz.

The morbid dioramas and photos would have been enough on their own to earn this book a place on the top shelf. Reading about the creator of these finely rendered crimes scenes, Frances Glessner Lee, put it in my favourite books hall of fame.

"Frances Glessner Lee was a brilliant, witty, shy, intimidating, and, by some accounts, impossible woman", reads the opening line. Talk about my kind of person! Born in the late 1800's into a wealthy Chicago family Glessner Lee yearned to put her finely tuned intellect toward some greater societal purpose. Stymied by smothering parents, social conventions of the day and a mismatched marriage, Glessner Lee spent her youth waiting for the day her life would begin. The wait paid off. She managed to shed her marriage in the early 1900's and after the death of her parents, found herself the beneficiary of a sizeable fortune. Since she wasn't able to attend Harvard as a young woman (her parents forbid it), she did the next best thing later in life - she used her inheritance to establish the Harvard department of Legal Medicine to train law enforcement personnel in forensic investigation. (The original CSI.) Using her skills as a miniaturist, she designed a series of meticulously crafted 1:12 scale crime scenes to train investigators.

Lee earned quite a reputation as a forensics instructor and became the first woman to become a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Definitely someone I'd love to have at a "5 dead people dinner party".

Glessner Lee shown here at work on a diorama.

The models currently reside at Maryland Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore, putting that city on my list of places to visit. (well, that and the possibility of a Jimmy McNulty sighting.)

1 comment:

Candice Tarnowski said...

w o w. i'm smitten with this.