Small Talk

Building a History of Toys

Randy Regier

Visual artist Randy Regier plays with the present and past by creating new, vintage-inspired toy sculptures which look as if they have existed for decades—obviously, we at the museum are big fans! We recently caught up with Regier to discuss some of his work and inspiration. Surprisingly, Regier explained that he didn’t own many toys growing up and rarely were those toys new. On one occasion when he brought home a good report card, he was allowed to buy a 1967 Rolls Royce Matchbox car. The bright yellow and blue box against the shiny cherry red car struck young Regier as something to be treasured. As a child Regier was influenced by 1960s and ’70s American pop culture as well as comic artists such as Bruce McCall and B. Kliban, who also used bright color palettes and witticism to provide social commentary.

Since new toys were a luxury, young Regier often built most of the toys he wanted to play with himself. The toys he made as a child helped him to imagine his future and articulate his observations about the landscape around him. As an adult, Regier uses the colors, designs, and aesthetic he grew up with to create his current body of work. Regier paraphrases Albert Camus when he describes his sculptures as his excuse to rediscover the things that have excited him throughout his entire life.

Look for Randy Regier’s artwork in State of the Art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art until January 19, 2015.

Let’s Take a Stroll

McLoughlin Brothers Folding Dollhouse

Everyone loves a fabulous garden, even dolls! In the early 1900s, McLoughlin Brothers, Inc. produced the New Folding Dollhouse. Two stories tall and able to be constructed in a minute, the dollhouse’s special feature was its façade, which folded down to reveal an ornamental garden for the dollhouse occupants.

Like other manufacturers such as Bliss, the McLoughlin Brothers used chromolithography to produce their brightly colored cardboard dollhouses. With its color printed windows, bricks, and columns, this dollhouse serves as a time capsule of the decorative and architectural style of the late Victorian period. Bright colors, ornate decorations, and curtain-lined windows surround opulent rugs, cushioned window seats, and beautiful fireplaces. The house is sumptuous and pleasantly cluttered, two hallmarks of turn-of-the-century decorating. Try your hand at making your own tiny folding dollhouse with this template!

Toy or Miniature?

ToolChests

So, what is the difference between a toy and a fine-scale miniature? This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions we hear at the museum. Let’s take a quick look at a few pieces from the collection to illustrate the answer!

William Robertson’s miniature Hewitt “gentleman’s” chest and the American Manufacturing Concern’s (AMC) Elite Tool Chest for Boys are similar tool chests featuring dovetail joints. The most apparent difference is probably their size; the Elite Tool Chest measures a child-size 17 5/8” long, while Robertson’s 1-inch scale miniature measures a just a wee 2” long. Both chests are “real” tool chests in that they feature a full set of functioning tools which could be used to complete any number of carpentry projects. In fact, Robertson’s miniature includes all the same tools as the full-size Hewitt chest currently located at Colonial Williamsburg—the saw even has 160 teeth to the inch!

It probably goes without saying that these two tool chests are meant for two very different audiences. AMC mass produced the Elite Tool Chest to offer children— well, apparently only boys— size-appropriate tools for practicing their carpentry skills. Robertson’s Hewitt chest was created with no intention to actually use the tools, but rather to understand and study the skills traditional craftsmen used to handcraft everyday objects. You could probably say that both pieces were created to educate, but as very different teaching tools—pun intended!

Look, She’s Walking!

Autoperipetekos

We’re guessing no Victorian child (or adult for that matter) probably called this doll by her proper name: Autoperipatetikos. This mouthful of a name is actually Greek for “self-walker” or “walking about by itself.” And walk she does! Ok, well maybe it’s more like a jerky scooting motion

Patented in 1862 by Enoch Rice Morrison, this china head doll is among the first walking dolls in American history. Previous examples of walking dolls existed, but they usually had to be supported by a string, wooden baby walker, or were guided. Mr. Morrison was able to solve this issue of balance by giving his doll larger feet with a wide stance, a stiff cone under her dress, and arms made of kid leather to reduce shifting weight. Her pink dress also hides the key-wound clockwork mechanism that allows her feet to move. Like most mechanical toys, the amazing and beautiful Autoperipatetikos is not without some faults, as her original box reads: “If it should stop at any time, turn the feet toward you and see if the inside leg is not caught up against the feet.” Oh dear.

When a House is Not a Home

BostonBeaconHillHouse_LivingRoom

Even the Lilliputians from Gulliver’s Travels would have a difficult time trying to live in this tiny masterpiece. Created in the quarter scale (that’s 1 inch for every 48 inches, or 4 feet!) by miniature artist Frank Matter, the Boston Beacon Hill House was a collaborative effort between Matter and Claire Bagley Hammons, who commissioned the piece. Hammons enlisted Matter’s talents to bring to life her vision: a house featuring the outstanding architecture of beautiful old New England mansions. Completed in 1958, the forty-eighth scale model, stands at a stately 13 inches high, 12 inches across, and 9 inches deep!

The house was added to the T/m collection in 2008, but like all old homes, it needed a renovation before going on exhibit. Miniature artist William R. Robertson completed the renovation, uncovering more astonishing craftsmanship then we thought a house smaller than a microwave could hold! The house is fully furnished with functioning pieces right down to the china in the breakfront and the reading material in the magazine rack. And like a real home of that era, Robertson even found himself treating for asbestos during the renovation! Robertson also uncovered some mind-boggling, functioning pieces that we’ll explore in future posts. Stay tuned!

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