Small Talk

Playful Collecting

Playful Collecting

The new exhibits at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures would not be complete without paying homage to the women who started it all: Barbara Marshall and Mary Harris Francis. Nestled amongst the toy exhibits on the second floor is the first antique dollhouse acquired by Mary Harris Francis in 1974—the New Rochelle Mystery House—and a fire station and pair of trucks from her husband’s childhood.

Mary Harris Francis never lost the connection she felt to her own childhood and this sense of playfulness guided her collecting. She was most attracted to objects that had been handmade and well-loved, leaving T/m a collection of toys with rich provenances that are detailed here on Small Talk and in the museum. Francis passed away in 2005, but her curatorial acumen will always be remembered through one of the nation’s largest collections of antique toys at T/m.

Wright to Scale

Wright to Scale

With their dramatic horizontal lines, open floor plans, and cantilevered roofs, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes are some of the most iconic in American history. Wright’s famous Prairie Style of domestic architecture took inspiration from the Midwestern landscape. The William E. Martin House is a beautiful example of one of these homes, coincidentally only a few blocks away from Wright’s own home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois. Today, the home is still a private residence, so your best chance to see it up close is here at T/m!

Built in 1902, the William E. Martin House was the inspiration for Allison Ashby and Steve Jedd’s 1:12 scale breakfast room. All of the room’s architectural details are accounted for in miniature. As with other works, Ashby and Jedd have substituted woods in order to mimic the full-size solid oak grain in miniature. The individually laid floor boards are made of basswood and the trim is made of cherry. In order to give the appearance of stucco, the miniature room’s walls were covered with muslin and faux-finished using layers of transparent acrylic glazes.

An Optical Spectacle

An Optical Spectacle

For those old enough to remember a teacher using an overhead projector as a visual aid for class lessons, isn’t it hard to imagine that device being used for entertainment? Projection technology in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, brought a sense of wonder and enjoyment to the age-old art of storytelling. Invented in 1658 by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, the magic lantern earned its name due to projections seeming supernatural.

The contraption uses a candle or oil lamp to project a variety of glass slide images through a lens onto the wall. During magic lantern shows, a lively orator or “lanternist” would use a series of slides while telling an amazing tale to audiences in a dimly lit room. Eventually, smaller toy versions like this Magic Lantern were developed for use at home. Ultimately, the projection technology used in magic lanterns and other optical toys was adapted for early “moving pictures” at the movie theater.

The Giving Brick Gives Back

The Giving Brick Gives Back

The wonderful thing about T/m’s collection is that it reaches beyond socioeconomic barriers; everyone played in some way, whether it was with the latest, flashiest toy or a hand-me-down stuffed animal. A new Kansas City nonprofit is working to make sure that every kid has the chance to explore the limitless possibilities for imaginative play, cooperation, problem-solving, and creativity found in LEGOs. The Giving Brick takes boxes of long-forgotten LEGOs out of closets, basements, and attics and into the hands of kids in the foster system.

The Giving Brick accepts donations of used LEGOs, and not only cleans and organizes them, but rebuilds complete LEGO sets based on retail LEGO sets and packages them in a nice red box complete with reprinted instructions for building the set. Have extra LEGOs lying around? Don’t step on them, drop them off at one of the organization’s many partner drop-off sites or mail them in today!
Photo: The Giving Brick.

The Birth of Bye-Lo Baby

The Birth of Bye-Lo Baby

With baby dolls going on adventures to the playground, being lovingly squeezed through scary, dark nights, and transported in backpacks, strollers, and tricycle baskets, it’s hard to imagine that they were ever anything but newborn look-a-likes made out of plastic. But they were! The first truly realistic baby doll, the Bye-Lo Baby, was produced in 1920. Before then, dolls were mainly little girls and stylish women made of stiff, hard materials.

Creator Grace Storey Putnam modeled the Bye-Lo Baby after a three-day-old sleeping infant at the Salvation Army Day Nursery in Los Angeles. And her doll couldn’t have come at a better time; plummeting birthrates after World War I meant children had fewer siblings, so parents sought out realistic dolls that could encourage nurturing skills. The cuddly doll had a hand-painted bisque head, a cloth body (the cuddly part), and glass sleep eyes, and was dressed in a white christening dress. Bye-Lo Babies were a commercial success, produced until 1952 in various materials: bisque, composition, celluloid, and rubber.

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