Small Talk

Swedish Wooden Toys

Swedish Wooden Toys

The words “Swedish” and “wooden” next to each other might trigger visions of assembling IKEA furniture, but relax, we’re just talking about toys! Swedish Wooden Toys at the Bard Graduate Center is an in-depth exhibit showcasing Sweden’s affinity for wooden playthings from the seventeenth through the twenty-first century. Like toymaking powerhouse and neighbor Germany, Sweden’s abundant natural resources allowed for cottage industries and eventually large commercial firms to flourish.

The exhibit explores a wide variety of toys, including dollhouses, war toys, educational toys, puzzles, and of course winter toys. Since winter is Sweden’s longest season, toys for playing outdoors in the snow are a fundamental part of play. Although many toy companies began using plastic in the 1950s (and continue to use it today), the colorful, well-designed Swedish wooden toy tradition remains a refreshing look at playtimes past and present.

Photo: Courtesy of Bard Graduate Center. Gemla Leksaksfabrik AB. Train, 1910–15. Wood. © Roma Capitale—Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali—Collezione di giocattoli antichi, CGA LS 1982. Photographer: Bruce White.

Pedal to the Metal

Pedal to the Metal

T/m’s recent renovation included space for two temporary exhibit galleries. The first exhibit in the larger gallery focuses on America’s obsession with shiny metal bodies on four wheels. Pedal-powered cars, boats, and trucks grew in popularity in the 1950s as the rising American middle class moved to the suburbs. And as we all know, cars and the suburbs go hand in hand. Thunderbirds, Packards, and Dodges introduced children to the freedom and responsibility of the open road.

Pedal to the Metal: Pedal Cars and American Car Culture features cars from T/m’s collection, the collections of several local individuals, and vehicles from the Smith Collection at the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska. Some of our personal favorites include the 1955 Good Humor Truck, 1941 Steelcraft Pursuit Plane, 1960 Deluxe “Flat Face” Dude Wagon, and the 1953 Torpedo. Pedal to the Metal rolls out August 28, 2016, so you have plenty of time to cruise in and see it!

Filigree Finery

Filigree Finery

You just never know where or when inspiration will hit you. Unless, of course, you’re artist William R. Robertson, who seeks out his inspiration in the rare and refined decorative arts collections of some of the world’s best museums. This 1:12 scale chest was inspired by a trip to the Musée le Secq des Tournelles (The Wrought Iron Museum) in Rouen, France.

While noble houses of 17th century Europe would use boxes like these to store valuables like jewelry, although this miniature version might only hold a couple of gemstones. Robertson constructed the chest with ebony and 18 karat gold filigree panels, each with a crisp beaded edge. The box lid is hinged and features a functional lock and key. As a special touch, the artist microscopically signed his name beneath the handle, but don’t strain your eyes trying to read it!

Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

In addition to teaching children necessary grown-up skills, dolls and toys have imagination-fueled stories all their own. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to hear toys’ playtime stories and special adventures toys had from the grown-ups who loved them. Other times, we have to do a little digging. This bisque fashion doll, for example, came to T/m with a few clues from her Victorian past.

With the help of previous her owners’ records, we know that this circa-1860 doll was owned by a girl in Buffalo, New York, named Eleanor Crocker. Nicknamed “Nellie,” the doll was passed down through several generations of Eleanor’s descendants before she became part of the museum’s collection. According to family lore, Nellie was brought back from France by Eleanor’s uncle Dexter as a gift. Through the magic of modern technology, we’ve been able to track down the family’s historical records including Dexter’s passport applications dating to the 1860s! While we may never know the exact playtime parties Nellie attended, we do know that Eleanor took excellent care of her.

How Do They Do It?

How Do They Do It?

We get this question at T/m a LOT when people visit the fine-scale miniature galleries. We stay awake at night contemplating it ourselves. So, when we started talking about what we wanted to add to the miniature galleries, a look into fine-scale miniature artists’ studios was at the top of our list.

In T/m’s new exhibit, In The Artist’s Studio, visitors can watch four videos that take them into the studios of William R. Robertson and Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel. Not only did the artists let us invade their studios for multiple days of filming, which included shoving cameras inches from their faces (everything is really small!), but they also donated all of the tools they used and created multiple pieces that illustrate the steps in the process towards the final product. Robertson turned a metal candlestick on a lathe and carved a dovetail drawer. Chellis Wessel painted an egg tempera canvas and turned a ceramic plate on a wheel. While the exhibit provides some answers, it will still leave you in awe of their work!

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