For over thirty years, Eugene and Clare Thaw collected superb examples of historic staircase models, particularly from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that demonstrate a stunning mastery of design, conceptual thinking, and construction skills. Staircases have been part of building design since about 6000 BC, initially as stone additions to exterior walls. Using as a guide the average length of the human foot, staircase design was both practical and military.
Models have served for centuries to test design theory and the practical elements of construction, as well as to display virtuosity. To achieve the three-dimensional realization of a design, the makers learned to perform wood- and metalwork on a miniature scale as well as develop fine conceptual skills. The resulting staircases were therefore archetypes of both architectural design and furniture craftsmanship.
Selections of staircase models from the Thaw Collection are currently on display in Cooper Hewitt’s Models & Prototypes Gallery. See the objects on view.