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The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death Hardcover – September 28, 2004
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Bizarre and utterly fascinating, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death is a dark and disturbing photographic journey through criminal cases and the mind of Frances Glessner Lee--grandmother, dollhouse-maker, and master criminal investigator. Photographer Corinne May Botz stumbled across the "Nutshell Studies" while making a video about women who collect dollhouses. On the suggestion of a collector, she visited the Baltmore Medical Examiner's Office, where Lee's miniature reconstructions of crime scenes were on display. The macabre dioramas fascinated and repulsed her: "I was entranced by the details: the porcelain doll with a broken arm in the attic, the grains of sugar on the kitchen floor...I was also riveted by the miniature corpses. Shot in bed, collapsed in the bathtub, hung in the attic and stabbed in the closet; all were eternally frozen in miniature rooms that had become their tombs."
A remarkable woman, Frances Glessner Lee established the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard in 1936. At the time, innumerable murders went undetected because evidence was mishandled, or ignored. To train investigators of sudden and violent deaths to better assess visual evidence, Lee created the Nutshell Studies--dollhouses that students could study from every angle, with minute crime scenes details taken from actual cases. Lee created 18 dioramas, using only the most mysterious cases (cases that could have been ruled as accidents, murders, or suicides) to train detectives and challenge their ability to read evidence.
Botz reveals as much about the nature of obsession as she does about Frances Glessener Lee--each model is painstakingly photographed from multiple vantage points, allowing the reader to witness the astounding level of realism and precision in each case, as well as giving the reader unobstructed access to each eerie setting. All 18 studies include a brief synopsis of each case, as well as a key to each grisly floor plan. Perfect for amateur sleuths, aspiring medical examiners, and fans of CSI, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death is grim and oh so bewitching. --Daphne Durham
Inside The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
Case: "Living Room"
Case: "Three-Room Dwelling"
Case: "Dark Bathroom"
You can approach The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death in a variety or combination of ways: as a startlingly eccentric hobby; as a series of unresolved murder mysteries; as the manifestation of one woman's peculiar psychic life; as a lesson in forensics; as a metaphor for the fate of women; as a photographic study. One thing is sure: you will not forget them.-Robert Gottlieb, The New York Observer
Botz makes the most of her material's tendency to seesaw between fact and fiction, believability and sham...Botz became so familiar with these tiny spaces that her pictures exude a homeyness all the more disconcerting when you notice the bloodstains on the rug and the body under the bedcovers. She hasn't just preserved Lee's meticulous mix of primness and voyeurism, she's given it a whole new life after death.-Vince Aletti, The Village Voice
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However, one reviewer gave it only one star and though I don't agree it's that awful of a book, I do agree with their assessment that the pictures were particularly disappointing. I would have preferred high quality overview photos of the entire crime diorama rather than the arty angles or takes from each. I found cheated that there were no full diorama shots in the entire book. When you focus on bits & pieces of evidence at a scene, they can be out of context if not taken into consideration of the entire scene.
This exhibition is in need of a 3-d virtual tour!
Considering the amount of work and attention that went into the making of these scenes, I am incredibly disappointed in this book, and can only hope for another show sometime.
This is an excellent topic, but it deserves a much more competent and informative treatment.
What many do not know was that Frances's father was the founder/presidenet of International Harvester and they had a home on thousands of acres. Her brother went on the Harvard University but her father didn't believe in higher education for females. She became fascinated with Forensic Science and the prperty she inherited was covered with walnut trees. She began to buld detaled miniature crime scenes in the walnut shells - comlete to the color/print of the clothing; hair color; eye color if their eyes were open postmortem. She married late in life; had children, then divorced.
I first read about her in a quarterly issue of my Forensic Examiner journal, since I am a member of the American College of Forensic Examiners Insitute.
Publication Date: September 28, 2004
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death offers readers an extraordinary glimpse into the mind of a master criminal investigator. Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy grandmother, founded the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard in 1936 and was later appointed captain in the New Hampshire police. In the 1940s and 1950s she built dollhouse crime scenes based on real cases in order to train detectives to assess visual evidence. Still used in forensic training today, the eighteen Nutshell dioramas, on a scale of 1:12, display an astounding level of detail: pencils write, window shades move, whistles blow, and clues to the crimes are revealed to those who study the scenes carefully.
Corinne May Botz's lush color photographs lure viewers into every crevice of Frances Lee's models and breathe life into these deadly miniatures, which present the dark side of domestic life, unveiling tales of prostitution, alcoholism, and adultery. The accompanying line drawings, specially prepared for this volume, highlight the noteworthy forensic evidence in each case. Botz's introductory essay, which draws on archival research and interviews with Lee's family and police colleagues, presents a captivating portrait of Lee.
Most recent customer reviews
crime vignettes to be the most...Read more