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Fairy Castle at Museum of Science and Industry Taken Apart for Needed Rehab

By Sam Cholke | November 22, 2013 8:12am
 The Museum of Science and Industry is choosing to let the public watch the restoration of the fairy castle exhibit.
MSI Fairy Castle
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HYDE PARK — The Museum of Science and Industry’s fairy castle is scattered in pieces and it's expected to take months to put it back together.

The 80-year-old miniature castle is undergoing a lengthy conservation process, and rather than ship it off to a workshop somewhere, the museum has set about the process of carefully restoring each piece on the museum’s gallery floor at a makeshift workbench.

“It needed to be stabilized if we wanted it to last another 100 years,” said Margaret Schelsinger, the curator for the castle who has carefully arranged 1,500 miniature artifacts while conservators repair the structure.

The castle was commissioned in 1928 by silent film star Colleen Moore as a lavish tribute to her childhood love of dollhouses. Each room was outfitted with miniatures including a polar bear skin rug that uses real mouse teeth in the head and a weeping willow that cried liquid tears.

Over the years, the willow’s tears, the constantly filling and emptying of the princess’ bathtub and the scorching lights of the ballroom have taken their toll on the castle.

“Running water is not a good idea,” said Inez Litas, one of the conservators working on the project and who specializes in dioramas. “There’s a reason you don’t put paintings in bathrooms, right?”

Litas said that over time, the princess’ alabaster tub has absorbed the green oxidation from the copper pipes and the ballroom lights have scorched the roof.

“We can’t really remove it completely,” Litas said, pointing to the green stains on the floor of a tiny bathroom.

Schelsinger said the process is very similar to the upkeep on an actual castle.

“Just like a house, the pipes leak, the faucets leak, the tub can overflow,” Schlesinger said.

And just like repairing an old house, odd little treasures show up between the floor boards.

Litas said she found tiny gems that had somehow worked their way down to the great hall from a stash of treasure in the attic over the last 80 years.

She said taking apart the castle revealed what a truly marvelous work of engineering the whole structure is.

“Every time you take it apart, it’s like a puzzle — and it’s quite the puzzle,” Litas said. “It’s clear that the guys who built this thing were engineers.”

Through February of 2014, visitors will be able to watch Litas slowly bring the castle back to its original glory. Some of the work will be behind the scenes though, and the reflecting pool has already been sent out so the water can be replaced with a clear acrylic resin.

“The goal is to preserve the piece,” Litas said. “So the water has to go.”

The tiny light bulbs will be replaced with fiber optics both to reduce the heat damage from the bulbs and also because the original 80-year-old bulbs simply aren’t made anymore.

Restoration of the castle will be complete in February and the myriad of pieces reassembled in March.

The exhibit is including in general admission to the museum.