Remember doing diorama’s in school for your book reports? Remember how long you took to perfect the scene? Mold the little people? Make the windows look real?
Well, Im pretty sure your diorama’s weren’t as awesome as Francis Glessner Lee’s intricately detailed scenes of murder – tiny blood splatters and all.
The focus on the new documentary film, Of Dolls and Murder (narrated by the brilliant John Waters), is Lee’s passion: working intricately with her hands. Apparently, it was this need, this compulsion, to create with her hands that led to unrest in her youth, and her divorce later in life. Ultimately, her collective interest in science and pathology, along with her learned ‘feminine’ activities such as arrangement and house keeping led to her creation of painstakingly detailed diorama’s of murders that were used as forensic examples and teaching tools for students of psychology, the law and police work.
Blood splatter was ever so slightly applied in a spray pattern for one victim in a bed; another suffered a stabbing in the kitchen. Others are hung in an adjacent room – a room consisting of perfect details such as wall paper, tiny light bulbs in the lamps, and gun shell casings on the floor. These dioramas were medically and historically accurate for the crime scenes they represent, and were called the Nutshells. Or, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, and in a tiny model they provide a comprehensive look at a scene where even the slightest detail can mean a monumental crack in the case.
Most interesting to me is that this woman, in the 30′s and 40′s, was doing something so very un-womanly (in that time). Her chosen path to dive into crime scene photographs and readings and then recreate them in a diorama for forensics teams to examine is quite…unique. And ballsy. Women were meant to be seen and not heard, to do their jobs in the home and ignore the realities of the world around them – and Lee often seems to suggest in her diorama’s that it is the ignorance of the real world that often led to the death of so many women in their homes.
She showed a much darker side of domesticity and broke gender stereotypes and boundaries with her work – and for that, we salute you!
Check out the film about her work and our fascination with murder and death in Of Dolls and Murder. Check your local listings.