Small Talk

Hello Forty!

Hello Forty!

Since her inception in 1974, Hello Kitty’s cute yellow nose and large red bow has been placed on just about every kind of product imaginable—she’s even been on cans of motor oil! By 2014, Hello Kitty was worth an incredible 7 billion dollars! A special exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum celebrates 40 years of Hello Kitty’s worldwide influence with original artwork, fashion, and other rather unusual Hello Kitty swag.

Yuko Shimizu, Hello Kitty’s creator, drew inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass focusing on Alice’s pet named “Kitty.” Some mystery surrounds Hello Kitty’s design and personality, like the fact that she was designed without a mouth and given little facial expression. Company spokespeople, however, say her lack of a mouth indicates universality, that the character speaks many languages, and that it means Hello Kitty desires worldwide friendship. With Hello Kitty merchandise available in over 60 countries, the emotionally aloof feline has certainly achieved her goal!

Photo: Hello Kitty, Japanese American National Museum.

Toys Go Pop

Toys Go Pop

We all know of Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup cans, but few pop art fans know of his series of artworks based on his own toy collection. In 2014, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art hosted Andy Warhol: Toy Paintings for the Whole Family, an exhibition curated by The Andy Warhol Museum. The exhibit consisted of 86 Warhol works, including silkscreens and drawings with colorful images of playful puppies, swinging monkeys, drum-playing pandas, and whimsical depictions of transportation.

As an artist exploring the concepts of branding and consumerism, some images in Warhol’s toy series actually depict the packaging of these toys, similar to his Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo boxes. The mechanical puppy, for example, includes the warning “Not recommended for children under three years of age.” Blurring the lines between high art and everyday playthings, these toy images have more than earned their “15 minutes of fame.”

Photo: Kellermann, Germany 1938, Wikimedia Commons.

Beautiful Builder Bangles

Beautiful Builder Bangles

Artist emiko oye told Smithsonian Magazine that as a child she avoided playing with LEGO sets because of the brand’s boy-centric design and advertising. However, her contribution to the Smithsonian’s Craft2Wear event in October 2014 offered reclamation of the small building blocks for women and girls. Using plastic LEGO pieces, oye fashioned bold bracelets and intricate necklaces that rival the high-end geometric baubles seen on runways around the world.

Founded in 1932, LEGO got its name from the Danish phrase “leg godt,” or “play well.” First produced by LEGO in 1949, the plastic, inner-locking bricks allow children of all ages to assemble endless systems of buildings and pathways. Today, LEGO features female characters and a wider range of building sets in its product line to attract young girls. oye says she noticed the ability of LEGO to inspire young minds. “I saw this media that was limitless, pretty much, and always changing and evolving … [and]… everybody has a connection to LEGO in some way … Their eyes light up when they see my work because it touches in them something very personal and that’s how jewelry really is.”

Photo: emiko oye.

Down to the Nitty-Gritty Details

Down to the Nitty-Gritty Details

One of the “largest” architectural works in our miniature collection is a grand three-story Victorian house known as Port Townsend. This stately house is the work of husband and wife artists Noel and Pat Thomas. Commissioned by T/m co-founder Barbara Marshall, the house was built with only one request: that it have a greenhouse.

One of the biggest construction challenges—finding curved glass for the greenhouse—was remedied by cutting pickle jars. Another challenge—creating a functional split chimney flue—was a trial-and-error process involving burning incense in the home’s tiny fireplace. While we at the museum aim to keep all of our objects in pristine condition, the Thomases’ design their miniatures to appear realistic, worn, and lived-in. To create this illusion, a full-sized ashtray with a lit cigarette was placed in the parlor to simulate fireplace soot, tiny spiders were set free in the basement and attic to create cobwebs (don’t worry, they’re not there anymore!) and much of the house was coated with their “Famous Thomas Bug Juice,” a graying solution developed from a gunsmith’s formula.

It’s National Puzzle Day!

It’s National Puzzle Day!

Most of us (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) can start to feel a bit stir-crazy around this time of year. Luckily today, January 29, is National Puzzle Day! Ok, maybe puzzles won’t completely cure the winter blues, but it’s worth a shot! Whether you prefer crossword, logic, jigsaw, linguistic or mathematical puzzles is up to you.

John Spilsbury invented the first jigsaw puzzle (pictured above) in 1766. Originally meant as a teaching tool for geography classes, the jigsaw puzzle caught on. And for good reason too—puzzles teach important motor and problem solving skills, and aid in creative and abstract thinking. By the 19th century, chromolithography made it easy to create an array of colorful designs that were applied or printed directly onto puzzle boards, blocks and boxes. Even in the video game era, puzzles of all kinds continue to delight us. Perhaps the thrill of completion is what keeps this pastime so popular.

Photo: © The British Library Board, Maps 188.v.12

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