Small Talk

Inside a Cabinet of Curiosity

Inside a Cabinet of Curiosity

Pierre Mourey’s 1:12 scale Antwerp Cabinet is as beautifully decorated on the inside as on the outside. Its two exterior doors unlock to reveal fourteen dovetail-jointed drawers with brass pulls. The front of each of the drawers contains a miniature pastoral scene. The hinged top of the cabinet reveals a secret compartment with two more painted scenes and the letter “M” for Mourey.

Although they came in many different forms, full-scale curiosity cabinets were meant to store objects of fascination and entertainment such as coral, antique coins, and rare gems. Cabinets like these are considered the forerunners of modern museums. The miniature Antwerp Cabinet is on display in the museum’s Masterpiece Gallery, which is kind of like our own cabinet of curiosity.

Stuffed with Fluff

Stuffed with Fluff

Before he was the chubby, red-shirted, honey-loving yellow bear we all know and love today, Winnie the Pooh had his humble beginnings as a teddy bear. Author A. A. Milne purchased the stuffed bear at Harrods as a gift for his son, Christopher Robin, in 1921. Five years later, Pooh (who was named after a real bear at the zoo and a pet swan) and his friends Kanga, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet became characters and illustrations in Milne’s books.

The group of mohair, felt, and velveteen stuffed animals were sold by Milne’s publisher E. P. Dutton, and eventually donated to the New York Public Library. Earlier this year, in honor of Pooh’s 90th birthday, the library worked with a team of textile conservators to return the stuffed animals to how they looked when Christopher Robin played with them. As a result, Kanga’s neck was repaired, Piglet’s nose was reattached, Eeyore’s patches were replaced, and of course all of them were re-stuffed with fluff. All of the friends from the Hundred Acre Wood are now back on display at the NYPL Children’s Center for future generations to enjoy.

Barbie Goes to Paris

Barbie Goes to Paris

Who would have imagined a small town girl from Willows, Wisconsin would one day have her own feature exhibit in Paris? Ok, so maybe she’s not a real person (and her hometown doesn’t really exist), but the recent Barbie exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs was anything but fictional. Earlier this year, 700 versions of the iconic doll were featured along with contemporary artworks and other historical objects that tell Barbie’s multi-faceted story.

Why feature an American toy in a French museum? Like many other toys, Barbie mirrors the cultural climates of the last 57 years, not only in America but in much of the Western world. The exhibit also came during a banner year for Barbie and her maker, Mattel, who announced several new body types and skin tones in an effort to reflect a more diverse market. On top of that fact, Barbie was created as a “teenage fashion model doll,” and where better to feature her wide array of couture than in Paris? Whether she’s moonwalking in her pink astronaut suit or walking the runway in a Christian Louboutin catsuit, Barbie sparks the imaginations of children and adults—and looks great doing it!

Photo: Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

A Cabinet of Curiosity

A Cabinet of Curiosity

The bold and ornate details on the outside of the 1:12 scale Antwerp cabinet really make a statement. Created by artist Pierre Mourey in 1999, the leggy cabinet was inspired by 17th-century Dutch cabinets of curiosities. Traditionally, these cabinets were adorned with exotic materials like tortoise shell, ebony, and mother of pearl.

Mourey, however, had to figure out a way to emulate in miniature not only the style of the cabinet, but also the fine embellishments. Reverse-painted red acetate (the kind of material eyeglass frames are made of) was used to resemble tortoise shell. Although it’s made of walnut, the cabinet has been ebonized, or treated with a special chemical mixture to give it the look of dark ebony wood. Stay tuned; we’ll reveal the cabinet’s equally stunning interior soon!

Factories in the Business of Play

Factories in the Business of Play

At The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, the Toys, Inc. story continues into the 19th century as toy making graduated from homes to factories and machines replaced manual labor. With low profit margins and a time-consuming process, the cottage industry had difficulty bringing home any bacon. On the other hand, factories were able to boost production with steam-powered engines and mechanized processes that churned out large quantities of toys.

To maintain their dominance in the market, Germany turned to tin toys (or maybe it was because they had depleted the country’s wood supply?). Tin was cheap to produce, lightweight to ship, and could be easily decorated. A win, win, win! Wanting a piece of the pie, America entered the toy production game with a readily available material from the country’s prolific railroad construction: cast iron. By utilizing an easily obtainable material, the U.S. could produce toys that were less expensive than German imports. Can you say cha-ching?!

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