Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

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The Red Bedroom Diorama

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are a series of nineteen (twenty were originally constructed)[1] intricately designed dollhouse-style dioramas created by Frances Glessner Lee (1878–1962), a pioneer in forensic science.[2] Glessner Lee used her inheritance to establish a department of legal medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1936, and donated the first of the Nutshell Studies in 1946[3] for use in lectures on the subject of crime scene investigation. In 1966, the department was dissolved, and the dioramas went to the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. where they are on permanent loan and still used for forensic seminars.[4][5]

The dioramas are detailed representations of death scenes that are composites of actual court cases, created by Glessner Lee on a 1 inch to 1 foot (1:12) scale.[6][4][5] Each model cost about US$3,000–4,500 to create.[7] She attended autopsies to ensure accuracy,[6] and her attention to detail extended to having a wall calendar include the pages after the month of the incident, constructing openable windows, and wearing out-of-date clothing to obtain realistically worn fabric.[4] The dioramas show tawdry and, in many cases, disheveled living spaces very different from Glessner Lee's own background.[8] The dead include prostitutes and victims of domestic violence.[4][9][10]

Glessner Lee called them the Nutshell Studies because the purpose of a forensic investigation is said to be to "convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell."[9] Students were instructed to study the scenes methodically—Glessner Lee suggested moving the eyes in a clockwise spiral—and draw conclusions from the visual evidence.[4][9] At conferences hosted by Glessner Lee, prominent crime-scene investigators were given 90 minutes to study each diorama.[9]

Alphabetical list of dioramas[edit]

  • Attic (24 December 1946)
  • Barn (15 July 1939)
  • Blue Bedroom (3 November 1943)
  • Burned Cabin (15 August 1943)
  • Dark Bathroom (November 1896)
  • Garage (7 January 1946)
  • Kitchen (12 April 1944)
  • Living Room (22 May 1941)
  • Log Cabin (22 October 1942)
  • Parsonage Parlor (23 August 1946)
  • Pink Bathroom (31 March 1942)
  • Red Bedroom (29 June 1944)
  • Saloon & Jail (12 November 1944)
  • Sitting Room & Woodshed (25 October 1947)[1]
  • Striped Bedroom (29 April 1940)
  • Three-Room Dwelling (1 November 1937)
  • Two-Story Porch (5 April 1948)
  • Unpapered Bedroom (4 June 1949)
  • Woodman's Shack (8 February 1945)

Exhibition[edit]

On November 18, 2017, at the Renwick Gallery, Nora Atkinson, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, with Susan Marks during display of the new film Murder in a Nutshell: The Frances Glessner Lee Story.

A complete set of the dioramas were exhibited at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC from October 20, 2017 to January 28, 2018.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The dioramas inspired CSI writers in their creation of the Miniature Killer, a serial murderer who leaves miniature dollhouses behind at crime scenes.[6]
  • Corinne Botz's best-selling book "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" (Monacelli Press, 2004) examines Lee’s life and includes numerous photographs of the models.
  • Susan Marks' documentary film Of Dolls and Murder looks at how the dioramas are still used as training material by the Baltimore Police Department.[6]
  • On November 18, 2017, the film 'Murder in a Nutshell: The Frances Glessner Lee was directed by Susan Marks and the film was premiered at the Renwick Gallery. Nora Atkinson, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, moderated a discussion with Ms. Susan Marks.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Jensen, Chris (2015-07-11). "Tiny Murder Scenes are the Legacy of N.H. Woman Known as 'The Mother of CSI'". New Hampshire Public Radio. Retrieved 2017-11-11. 
  2. ^ Stamp, Jimmy (6 March 2014), "How a Chicago Heiress Trained Homicide Detectives With an Unusual Tool: Dollhouses", Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian.com, retrieved 22 July 2016 
  3. ^ Hall, Dominic (2017-10-13). "Nutshell Studies Loaned to Renwick Gallery for Exhibition". Center for the History of Medicine at Countway Library. Harvard University. Retrieved 2017-11-11. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Miller, Laura J. (September–October 2005), "Frances Glessner Lee: Brief life of a forensic miniaturist: 1878–1962", Harvard Magazine 
  5. ^ a b Respers, Lisa (24 February 1999), "Helping to Crack Cases: 'Nutshells': Miniature replicas of crime scenes from the 1930s and 1940s are used in forensics training", The Baltimore Sun 
  6. ^ a b c d Monroe, Rachel (5 May 2010), "The Art of Murder", Baltimore City Paper, archived from the original on 13 January 2011 
  7. ^ Nuwer, Rachel (9 June 2014). "Murder in Miniature". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 22 July 2016. 
  8. ^ Botz, Corinne. "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death," The Monacelli Press (2004).
  9. ^ a b c d "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death", American Medical News, BruceGoldfarb.com, 17 August 1992, retrieved 22 July 2016 
  10. ^ Botz, Corinne, "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death," Monacelli Press (2004).
  11. ^ "Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death". Renwick Gallery. 

External links[edit]