Small Talk

Under a Magnifying Glass

Goddard-Townsend Secretary

While we wish that we could walk into The Metropolitan Museum of Art to measure, study, and photograph a 200-year-old secretary, we aren’t all fortunate enough to be miniature artists. For Paul Runyon, this was just the first step in crafting a miniature version of the Goddard-Townsend block and shell desk and bookcase. Made by the Goddards and Townsends, two intermarried 18th century Rhode Island furniture-making families, the desk gets its name from the raised blocks and carved shells on its surface.

Runyon was so particular that he was known to discard his plans for a miniature if he couldn’t make every single part in exact 1/12th scale. He worked under a magnifying glass to assemble the secretary because some of the pieces are as thin as .028 (or 7/250th) of an inch. It took him almost a year to complete this extraordinary work of art.

Trash or Treasure? Update

Just Colcord

Last year, the museum featured the work of toy artist Just Colcord in Trash or Treasure? So we thought it was high time to check in with Colcord in his studio to see what he’s been creating since the exhibit. Inspired by a lecture given by Wichita, Kansas artist Randy Regier, Colcord began crafting packaging to display his found object toys while they are at rest. The packaging highlights the individuality of each piece, allowing the viewer to focus on the intricacies of each creature without the distractions of the surrounding environment. Colcord mused that the toys enjoy having their own “room” to inhabit as much as men enjoy their man caves and women their craft rooms.

After looking at one too many vacation photos that featured the beautiful scenery, but not the people experiencing it, Colcord decided to play with the idea of space in his work. Colcord documents his toys adventures in the real world, such as an excursion to Ripley’s Museum, and is narrating these trips in albums on Facebook. Next up is “mobile interactive play sets,” that allow viewers to play with his creations. Colcord hopes these sets will inspire participants to explore their environments with the same spirit and gusto as his creations.

Gimme A Ring

Seiffen Ring

While Noah seemingly had an easy enough time gathering two of every animal for his ark, we were starting to wonder how toy makers got enough beasts to fill their arks?  We found the answer in the small German town of Seiffen. At the end of the 18th century, woodworkers invented an ingenious method to make lots of wooden animals cheaply and efficiently (and rather attractively, we might add): the Seiffen ring. The ring allowed craftsmen to meet the popular demand for Sunday toys in markets far and wide.

How can a ring become a lounge of lizards or a caravan of camels? First, a cross-section of a tree trunk (usually fir) is cut. Next, the disk-shaped piece is shaped and turned on a lathe to produce a donut-shaped wooden ring with the profile of a particular animal. After the shape of the animal takes form, the ring is sliced like a pie into segments to create each individual figure. The finishing touches are hand-carved and the details are painted. Sounds easy enough, right? Check out this video (and brush up on your German) to see the process in action.

Photo: Seiffen, Staatliche Spielwaren-Fachschule, German Federal ArchivesWikimedia Commons.

Assembling an Art Nouveau Spring

Jardinere PiecingTogether

After researching the full-scale jardinière, sketching the designs, and carving the base for the fine-scale miniature, artist Linda LaRoche created the basin of the jardinière by hollowing and carving blocks of plum wood to shape the sides. The next challenge was creating the delicate animals, people, and foliage that decorate the curved walls of the container.

Using a method known as marquetry, LaRoche sketched the design onto the basin’s wooden surface and then traced a copy of the design onto paper. LaRoche placed the paper copy over thin pieces of wood called veneer in order to carve an outline of the design into the wood. This process left LaRoche with hundreds of tiny pieces of carved wood that perfectly matched the original sketch. Now for the fun part! LaRoche had an intricate jigsaw puzzle to complete; she assembled the tiny veneer pieces over the sketched design on the basin’s surface. One side of the basin’s design consists of over 150 tiny pieces of wood; each was individually laid and glued on the surface, taking LaRoche two and a half years (out of the fourteen needed for the entire piece) to complete.

Toy Town, USA

Noah's Ark

Just like Santa’s workshop at the North Pole is today, the small town of Winchendon, Massachusetts was once home to the largest production center for wood toys in the world. Winchendon received the nickname “Toy Town” thanks to the Converse Toy & Woodware Company (later known as Morton E. Converse Company). Founded in the 1870s by Morton E. Converse, the company mass-produced every type of wooden toy good little girls and boys could imagine, from dollhouses to rocking horses. In fact, if you visit Winchendon today, you’ll find Clyde II, an oversized replica of a hobby horse originally carved by Converse.

Converse got into the toy business after carving a set of doll dishes for his ailing daughter. After her recovery, Converse added wooden legs to a collar box, creating a tea table with a place inside to store the wooden dishes. This sense of ingenuity and adaptive reuse served Converse well. The company produced over 250 kinds of toys before closing in the 1930s. Not to be confused with the popular shoe of the same name, Converse toys can sometimes be identified by the “Converse” printed directly on the wooden structure.

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