Small Talk

The Nifty Toys of the Fifties

The Nifty Toys of the Fifties

If you build it, they will come. And what they wanted (yup, that’s you, our visitors), were the toys they played with as a kid. While seeing the toys you played with behind glass may make you feel old, it is pretty awesome to see old friends again. We promise you’ll pick right up where you left off. Gotta Have It! Iconic Toys from Past Decades begins with 1950s toys.

Saturday mornings in front of the television set changed advertising, allowing companies to demonstrate products and directly reach their target market: kids. And the discovery of polypropylene made plastic toys inexpensive and more interactive. Barbie came to town with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. They were joined by failed-manufacturing-ventures-turned-toys in Silly Putty and Play-Doh. And the decade wouldn’t be complete without Matchbox cars, Erector Sets, and dolls that talked and wet, Chatty Cathy and Betsy Wetsy.

LACMA’s Miniature Metropolis

LACMA’s Miniature Metropolis

We’re obviously huge fans of kinetic sculptures that incorporate toys, hence T/m’s two-story Toytisserie. Although it’s not in a museum of toys or miniatures, artist Chris Burden’s large installation Metropolis II has been amazing visitors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) since 2011. Metropolis II is a fury of 1,100 matchbox cars whirring by at a scale speed of 230 miles per hour on a complex system of tracks around a futuristic miniature skyline.

Witnessing the sculpture in person in the LACMA galleries evokes feelings of wonder and awe, but with a tinge of anxiety, similar to driving on a real-life multi-lane freeway in heavy traffic (after all, toys are teaching tools for life, you know!). It took Burden and his studio team over four years of research and design to get all the components exactly right—even so, a team of attendants is on hand in case a car derails or jams up the track. The sculpture runs intermittently for four hours every day at LACMA.
Photo: Chris Burden, Metropolis II, 2010, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, courtesy of the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation, © Chris Burden Estate

A Rare Bird

A Rare Bird

Americans have been completely enamored of the automobile since the first ones rolled off the assembly lines and onto the streets. Both adults and children were captivated by the “horseless buggy,” as evidenced by this 1920s toy pedal car. Although wheeled mobility toys existed before this pedal car, Schmelzer’s Red Bird definitely came with all the modern stylishness of its motorized, full-scale counterparts.

Schmelzer’s Red Bird was manufactured by the Sidway Topliff Company of Washington, Pennsylvania for a department store here in Kansas City named Schmelzer’s Arms Co. Some of the features on this bad boy include yellow pinstripes, a winged hood ornament, and a hand brake that operates a stop sign in the rear above the license plate. The Red Bird is on view with other classic pedal cars in our temporary exhibit Pedal to the Metal: Pedal Cars and American Car Culture through August 28, 2016.

A Classroom of Design

A Classroom of Design

While many students are excited to be out of school for the summer, we’re going to head back inside to take a closer look at our favorite classrooms: William R. Robertson’s Architect’s Classroom. Crafted over 2,000 hours between 1988 and 1993, the circa 1900 1:12 scale classroom is only 24” x 33” x 19”. Similar to Robertson’s Twin Manors, the Architect’s Classroom is not a copy of one particular room, but a composite of many early classrooms discovered through meticulous research. And much like all of Robertson’s work, everything—and we mean everything—in the classroom works!

All students need a desk, and these desks are top of the line! Fashioned after a model in the Keuffer and Esser Co. catalog, the bases are cast in iron with Robertson’s initials and the date they were made. The large desktops tilt with a gear and rack system, while the smaller ones utilize knurled knobs. Like the matching stools, the desks raise, lower, turn, and roll of steel-wheeled castors. And every supply they would need is fully stocked: T-squares, rulers, protractors, parallels, compasses, watercolors, sloping tiles, glass and pewter bottles, pallets, blotters, erasers, crayons, pens, pencils, brushes, pencil sharpeners, and thumb tack lifters. And after all that, we’re not even close to being done. Stay tuned to learn a lot more!

The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination

The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination

As we know from an earlier blog post, Walt Disney was a huge fan of miniatures. Disney dreamed of creating little vignettes of America, placing them on a train, and touring them around the U.S. Although “Disneylandia” eventually grew to be a much bigger project, Disneyland, his “lands” were miniaturized and put on public view at The Walt Disney Family Museum. “The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination” represents the park with attractions that existed or were in development during Disney’s lifetime. Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and her family worked with Kerner Optical for nine months before premiering the model at the museum in September of 2009.

As with any other miniature, no detail was overlooked. The Rivers of America were crafted out of blue-painted shower door Plexiglas on a green base to create the illusion of depth. And all the hand sculpture flags fly in an eastern direction just as they would in Disneyland due to the western ocean breeze. Anyone familiar with the park may wonder if the model includes any hidden Mickeys. It doesn’t, but don’t be disappointed! Two hidden Walts can be found walking with his daughter behind Sleeping Beauty’s castle and riding in a red Autopia car.
Photo: Courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum.

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