Small Talk

Toytisserie Turnout

toy sculptures

We put out the call, and metropolitan Kansas City answered! Earlier this fall, we placed collection barrels at several area libraries, businesses, and schools to collect an assortment of small toys needed for a monumental new sculpture at T/m that we’re calling the Toytisserie. After just a month of collecting, we ended up with nearly six 55-gallon collection barrels filled with toys!

In order to get an idea of what we’re working with, we first cleaned and sorted the barrels of toys with the help of our volunteers. We ended up with dozens of categories; from baby doll bottles to Barbie brushes and Lincoln Logs to LEGO people—hundreds of small toys will get a new lease on life as part of the two-story sculpture. A BIG thank you to the folks who donated as well as to the businesses and organizations that hosted a collection site. Stay tuned as the Toytisserie pieces come together!

An Artful Tradition

lee ann chellis wessel egg tempera

Like last year, we’re going to take a look at a work by Lee-Ann Chellis Wessel that commemorates the holiday season. Although her miniature version of The Virgin and Child by Italian painter Lippo Memmi was created nearly 700 years after his, Chellis Wessel has stayed true to the original media: egg tempera with gold leaf on a panel. Memmi’s trademark lacy halos and flattened gold patterns and trim within Mary’s robe all carry an intricate amount of tiny detail. We wonder how Chellis Wessel must have felt replicating those details in fine-scale miniature!

As a special treat this year, Chellis Wessel’s version is on display at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art next to the original work that served as her inspiration. Visitors can view it as well as others scattered throughout the Nelson-Atkins’ galleries as part of the exhibit, Highlights from the Collection of The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures on view now through February 22, 2015.

The Adorned Thorne Rooms

thorne rooms christmas

Have you ever wanted to peek into the delight and spirit of holiday seasons gone by? Well, we have good news. One of the most festive holiday traditions at The Art Institute of Chicago is the annual decking of the Thorne Rooms’ halls. Some of the tiny period rooms don long garlands and dainty, dangling mistletoe. In the English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, for example, a miniature Christmas tree sits atop a small table, complete with tall red candles on its limbs and a set of dolls resting beneath its bottom branches. In the modern-era California Hallway, a tiny blue menorah sits on a coffee table next to a box holding a dreidel.

In addition to regional, historically accurate décor in several other period rooms, this year’s special display also includes new decorations in honor of the Chinese New Year, a 15-day celebration marked by the lunar calendar. Common commemorative accents in the display will include tiny lanterns, floral arrangements, and banners inscribed with traditional Chinese sayings and idioms.

Photo: Mrs. James Thorne. English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, 1840-70 (detail), c. 1937. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Getting the Lead Out

Lead Soldiers with Mold

December brings holiday cheer, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and toy safety! The nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization, Prevent Blindness America has declared December to be Safe Toys and Gifts Month “in order to keep the holiday season joyful for everyone.” Toy safety is a top priority, and organizations like the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have also released safety tips and guidelines for buying and playing with toys.

Safe toys haven’t always been the standard. In the past, kids played with tiny steam engines, used candles to light up the interiors of their toy train stations and dollhouses, and even handled dangerous lead to cast their own toy soldiers. Anyone could buy blocks of lead and use a casting set to create toy armies and figures. This was marketed as an “easy and safe” activity…at least until the harmful side effects of lead were discovered and safety regulations were enforced in the 1960s and ‘70s. According to this article in Popular Science, just one of these lead soldiers contains enough lead to render several million toys unfit for sale in the U.S. by today’s standards. We don’t think Santa will be bringing any kids a lead casting set for Christmas this year!

Dashing Through the Snow

carol hardy miniatures

It’s the time of year for wintery carriage rides and festive carols! Written in 1857, “Jingle Bells,” one of the most popular songs of all time was, originally titled “The One Horse Open Sleigh.” It’s been sung the world over, and was even the first song performed in outer space. We like to think that this miniature Victorian sleigh is the one from the famous carol.

Artist Carol Hardy steam-bent pieces of wood to create the graceful curves of the runners and dash. The leg supports were fashioned from gleaming German silver. The sleigh’s body consists of black-painted cherry wood and the seats are upholstered in luxurious burgundy suede. Oh, what fun it would be to ride in this miniature open sleigh!

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