Milwaukee Film Fest Short Featuring Beth Lipman’s “House Album” Explores the Meaning of the American Home

By Dr. Sarah Anne Carter, CDMC Visiting Executive Director

drawn image of the interior of a paper doll house from the 19th century with many people and details populating the scene of a living room.
“Paper Dolls House,” scrapbook by Emilie P. Hickey. ca. 1870. glue, cut and painted paper cardboard. Image courtesy of the Strong National Museum of Play. Object # 78.7253.

One of the objects that first inspired me to think critically about historic interiors was a “paper dolls house” book I viewed at the Strong Museum as part of my college senior thesis research almost twenty years ago. I had secured a summer research fellowship to study something else but was captivated by this object. The scrapbook fascinated me as it offered a window onto an imagined domestic world pieced together through catalogue images, cards, and other prints. This research led me to the brilliant work of Design Studies Emerita Professor Beverly Gordon and eventually into a project on women’s and girls’ private spaces, as a graduate student at the Winterthur Museum. Little did I know that I would one day be teaching in Dr. Gordon’s department and have the chance to return to these evocative historical sources with her in a dramatically new way. 

woman stands behind an elaborate installation of glass works.
Film still from “Beth Lipman’s House Album” by Atesh Atici showing Lipman behind her glass art.

Internationally acclaimed, Wisconsin-based artist Beth Lipman was also inspired by these albums and has created a large-scale installation that projects the power of these intimate scrapbook houses into a human-scaled experience. The work pieces together historic objects, rendered in glass, in an interior that allows viewers to visualize, imagine, and juxtapose ideals and ideas about the American home past, present, and future—and the stakes of trying to narrate those complex domestic stories. 

In 2020 Lipman partnered with Milwaukee-based filmmaker Atesh Atici to create a film about this work. The short film explores the metaphorical meanings and possibilities that are developed through Lipman’s installation piece House Album, which is now on view at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City as part of a mid-career retrospective of Lipman’s work, curated by MAD Collections Curator Samantha De Tillio, titled Beth Lipman: Collective Elegy. Set in the beautiful, historic Pabst Mansion, the last extant mansion along what was once Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue, the film explores how domestic things move through time and accrue new meanings in new contexts. Lipman asked Gordan and me to speak to her work as part of the film, inviting our historical and material culture perspectives on House Album

film still showing Sarah Anne Carter speaking inside the Pabst mansion.
Film still from “Beth Lipman’s House Album” by Atesh Atici showing Sarah Anne Carter speaking inside the Pabst Mansion.

Beth Lipman’s “House Album” is currently showing as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival within the “The Milwaukee Show II ” shorts grouping which is being presented virtually in 2021 May 6–20. I invite you to purchase a ticket to view the group of short films and support the Milwaukee Film Festival.

Separately, please join the Center for Design and Material Culture Wednesday, May 19, for a virtual CDMC Conversations discussion of the work. The event, moderated by CDMC Producer-in-Residence Gianofer Fields, includes a screening of the film and will feature:

  • Artist Beth Lipman
  • Filmmaker Atesh Atici
  • Museum of Arts and Design collections curator Samantha De Tillio
  • SoHE Design Studies Professor Emerita Beverly Gordon
  • CDMC Visiting Executive Director and Visiting Assistant Professor of Design Studies Sarah Anne Carter

The event is free thanks to additional support from the Anonymous Fund and the Chipstone Foundation, but advance registration is required.

Watch past CDMC Conversations and plan for our other upcoming events.