Death in a Nutshell
Hello, I’m Emma, I blog over at The Edit but I thought She Walks Softly readers would enjoy discovering about the Nutshell studies…
“A kitchen lined with faded floral wallpaper is washed in warm sunlight filtering through lace-edged window curtains. A cake cools in the oven. Peeled potatoes sit in the sink. An ironing board and basket of laundry occupy in the center of the floor.
But one ghastly detail disturbs the coziness: The dead body of a 45-year-old woman, her hair pulled into a bun, supine on the floor in front of the open ice box. She wears a print dress and an apron, and stares blankly at the ceiling” 
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are a collection of miniature crime scene models built in the 1940s and 50s by Frances Glessner Lee. The models were based on real crime scenes and used to train police to assess visual evidence.
Glessner Lee attended autopsies to ensure accuracy in her models, and had a fastidious attention to detail. The replicas feature openable windows, curtains which can be drawn, and miniature pencils which write.
I’ve always appreciated things in miniature. There’s something slightly magical about scaled down little worlds, where your imagination fills in the gaps, creating personalities and routines for the people who might live there.
As artwork, I love the way the Nutshell Studies compare and contrast the perfection of the dollhouse world with the grisly nature of death. The majority of the victims depicted are women who suffered violent deaths.
As a training tool, police were told to inspect the scenes and look for evidence to help explain the death. For example, the woman described earlier, dead in the kitchen, what is the significance of the small details? A cake cools in the oven, but the stove gas has been left on, unlit. Peeled potatoes sit in the sink, but would a woman stop in the middle of cooking dinner to kill herself? The heavy iron could be used as a weapon, but will the body show any evidence of blunt force trauma?
Many of the crime scene models take place in the home, the ultimate safe haven. The place where we feel most secure, and ultimately trust that we’re going to wake up in the morning. The Nutshell Studies force us to examine situations where this trust is broken and the safe haven shattered.