Kane County History: Batavia-Inspired Miniatures Thrilled a Nation

Kane County History: Batavia-Inspired Miniatures Thrilled a Nation

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  • Editor’s Note: Kane County has an amazing history and outstanding resources for local historians. This is Week 4 of Kane County Connects’ weekly series of articles written by representatives of local historical societies and history museums. Today’s article was submitted by Jennifer Putzier, executive director of the Batavia Depot Museum.

One of Kane County’s lesser-known historical claims to fame is also one of the most fascinating: the story of Elaine Cannon, Batavia miniaturist.

Cannon miniatures brought delight to miniature enthusiasts across Illinois, if not the nation, throughout the 20th century. Her career as a miniaturist started early, when first she drew a classmate’s face on her own thumbnail.

Elaine Cannon was born March 5, 1895, in Batavia, and lived here until her passing Jan. 4, 1982. She took great inspiration in Batavia, re-creating shops and stores reminiscent of ones she saw and planting bits of Batavia memorabilia in her tiny dioramas.

You can see the quality and the exquisite detail of her work in the photos above.

Cannon worked out of her studio, at one time on the second floor of the Anderson Block on the northwest corner of Batavia Avenue and Wilson Street. Her creations were sold in Geneva at the Little Traveler, even on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Cannon artistically used vintage pieces alongside natural elements to make her figurines. She is well known for her “Little Hickory” collection — all the figures have hickory nuts for heads. She also used petals, grasses and even moss in adorning her miniatures.

Her smallest works are tiny little “Dome Dolls” a little over an inch tall with heads made up from a grain of wheat and dressed in elegant historic dresses. Her largest-scale pieces are fully furnished rooms, scarcely bigger than shoeboxes. These scenes are glimpses into the past — an apothecary shop, a milliner’s, a dry good store, a kitchen or a bed room, made cozy for their walnut or hickory headed inhabitant.

Author Lillian Budd, and fellow Swedish American, said of Cannon, “I have seen Elaine’s eyes twinkle as she called them ‘nutty heads’ … Through her creations she delights the hearts of all of us who never quite have left the wonder and mystery of childhood behind.”

The Batavia Historical Society also benefited from her love of the Victorian Era and her attention to detail. She was a charter member and worked to arrange many of the early displays in the 1960s. The Batavia Depot Museum is fortunate to have several examples of Cannon’s work in their collection, some of which you can see on display in the Gustafson Research Center.

The Depot Museum will reopen for the season March 5, 2018. Hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

About the Batavia Depot Museum

The Batavia Depot Museum opened in 1975 as a partnership between the Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society. The Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Depot was the first of its kind built in 1854, and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside, the city’s past comes alive through exhibits detailing the history of rail transportation, manufacture of windmills, agriculture, banking, commerce and a brief stay by Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place.

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