Museum giving dolls free rein

At the moment, it is all in the minds of Jason Rhodes and his mother, Lyn, of Wanaka's National Transport and Toy Museum, but in 18 months most of it should be a reality.

The owners of the large, eclectic mix of items that make up the museum are bringing a little more order to one corner of their collection.

They are giving 250 of their dolls free rein over 500sq m of valuable floor space.

Mrs Rhodes, who just happened to have the first ''walkie talkie'' doll in Canterbury, in the 1940s, is busy scrubbing, grooming and clothing the museum's top dolls.

Those she has finished are sitting in small groups inside some of the museum's old cars waiting patiently for the day they go on show.

There are dolls of all eras, sizes and materials - from celluloid to ceramic. The one thing they have in common is that they are as clean and well-groomed as the day they first came out of their boxes.

Four dolls' houses, furnished and complete with lighting, are also being prepared for display but still require another six months to finish.

The ''real money'' in displaying such items, Mr Rhodes said this week, was in the cabinetry sometimes worth ''more than the items'' it contained. But the upside of having them enclosed was that they would not have to be dusted.

Mr Rhodes did not consider it important the displays were to scale.

''These are meant to be girls' dolls' houses they played with. So nothing was ever 100% bang on.

''They are genuine dolls' houses you play with but we are dressing them up to the next level.''

Mrs Rhodes said furniture and fittings for houses sometimes came from unusual sources and pointed to a vase stand made from a carefully disguised bicycle handle. There is also a fence made from nails.

However, she avoided using plastic objects because they ''look tacky''.

There was a ''great debate'' among visitors to the museum about whether doors in dolls houses should be left open or closed.

Men surveyed preferred the doors to be open; women preferred ''the mystique'' of having the doors closed and the interiors visible only through windows, Mrs Rhodes said.

She was often asked by women visitors about particular sorts of dolls.

''They want to see the doll that they played with.''

The Rhodes family started the museum just over 18 years ago.

Mr Rhodes explained the unusual way items are displayed - with a mix of cars, toys, aircraft and other things all jostling for position - was part of the ''fuzzy logic'' that helped keep family groups together as they wandered through the museum.

No matter where they were in the museum, each family member was likely to be just a step or two away from something that was of particular interest to them.