The Mary March house will soon be on permanent display at the Spencer Doll And Toy Museum, North Carolina’s only nonprofit museum dedicated to playthings.
It was never a matter of breaking up the home. A home this warm and loved couldn’t be broken up. But no one in the family had room for Mary March’s exquisite dollhouse — until her children found a permanent place for the home where it will be seen, and loved, by families just like the Marches.
“She loved to sew and embroider and was very, very inventive,” Lynn Farber said of her mother. “She was so good at this and such a wonderful person. I love the fact that other people can appreciate her talent.”
The Mary March house will soon be on permanent display at the Spencer Doll And Toy Museum, North Carolina’s only nonprofit museum dedicated to playthings. The museum, in Spencer, was to pick up the house on Monday.
“It was evident when I spoke to Lynn that this was an incredible dollhouse worth preserving,” museum director Beth Nance said via email. “Miniatures became Mary’s passion, and it’s evident in her work.”
Mary March, a longtime Weaverville resident who died last August, was a remarkable woman. Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, she married Frederic C. March the year after she earned a degree in occupational therapy, in 1953. The Marches had a large family — two girls and four boys — and created “a household full of activity, friends, laughter and chaos,” according to Mrs. March’s obituary in The Daily News of Iron Mountain, Michigan — her son Michael’s hometown and where she was when she passed away at age 82.
“The March house was a home of life — sparklers, games, fridge raids, birthday parties, croquet and cookouts. It was the place to be,” the obituary reads. Mary March made her daughters’ clothes and always kept a nice home wherever they lived, said Farber, the oldest child and a resident of Pennsylvania.
Mrs. March moved to Weaverville after her husband died (they had planned to retire there some day) and began a new life full of bridge and book clubs, church and charities. She sewed hundreds of blankets for the Linus Project, according to the obituary.
And she spent hours working on her dollhouses.
A lifelong passion
March fell in love with them as a young girl, when her mother took her to the Art Institute of Chicago. There she saw the Thorne Miniature Rooms, a collection of masterfully executed, scaled European and American period interiors and furnishings.
That fired a passion, Farber said, that she indulged only after the children were grown. Her husband rekindled it when he gave her a miniature house based on a historical home in Charleston, South Carolina. That began a series of houses that March made or had made and gave to grandchildren and grandnieces.
The house given to the museum in Spencer is “the granddaddy of them all,” Farber said. More than 7 feet wide and 3 feet tall, the shell with swinging doors was built by a Wisconsin craftsman.
March shingled the house and did all the rooms. She made it a home, creating it for a family of 14.
“She used to tell us that she always wanted 12 children, but she was always happy with her six,” Farber said. Each of the 12 child dolls, custom-made by an artist in Australia, has a name, six of which are the same as the March kids.
“She loved having the dolls, but she really just loved decorating the house,” Farber said. “She’d find a piece she loved that might be expensive and (place) it next to something that was very inexpensive. She might buy a doll bed that was costly and then make one to match.
“In one of the bedrooms, the curtains are from fabric from my dad’s golf pants. In the dining room, the pink silk on the chairs was fabric she got from her mother. There are a couple of rooms where the fabric trim is from my sister’s and my sun suits when we were little.”
As was true of the March home, family runs throughout the house. Some of the furniture was made by Mrs. March’s great-uncle when she was just a little girl. The pieces are the only furnishings out of scale, and only by a bit; March scattered them throughout the house so it’s hard to tell. Certainly they are indispensable to the story of the house, Farber said.
The library is based on the one at the Biltmore House, where March worked for years as a docent.
“She worked there for a year, doing tours for schools groups and loved, loved, loved it,” Farber said. “She loved the history and the beauty of the home and the little stories they teach you when you become a guide.”
She made many of the small books in the library and found other pieces from catalogs and a doll show in Chicago.
“She’d see a piece and love it and work a room around it,” Farber said, like the wing chair and footstool with pink trim in the living room. And the bathtub and bidet, made by Reutter, in the bathroom.
March hung the doors, trimmed the floors and wired the house for electric lights. She painted the ceilings, added the shutters and put tiny cigars on an end table in the library because her husband smoked them.
“Every little detail has been attended to,” her daughter said. “You can look at these rooms over and over, and every time you see something different.”
Mrs. March was working on the house even while undergoing physical therapy in Michigan, necessary to get her strong enough to remain in her house in Weaverville. She was needlepointing rugs for the rooms in between work with the therapists. “She always traveled with handwork,” Farber said. “She worked on it right up to the end.”
Farber found the Spencer Doll And Toy Museum through the help of Weaverville lawyer Al Root and is grateful for his help. Everywhere else the siblings tried to place the house said it was too big. The museum, however, was happy to have it.
“It means that mom’s stuff gets to stay together,” Farber said. “She would love the fact that children and other families will look at her work. It’s such a huge tribute to her and her talent.”
NUTS AND BOLTS
The home: A 7-foot by 3-foot house to accommodate two parents and 12 children. Must be dolls.
The homeowner: Mary March, a longtime Weaverville resident, had the shell built and decorated each room herself, buying or making each item, from handmaking tiny books for the library to sewing draperies from her husband’s golf pants.
Wow factor: March wired the house for electric lights.
Want to see it? The March dollhouse will be on display later this year at the Spencer Doll and Toy Museum, 108 Fourth St., Spencer, NC. To learn more, visit www.spencerdollandtoymuseum.com or call 704-762-9359.