Small Talk

Design for the Masses

Gottschalk Dollhouse

Like a broken (polka) record, we seem to talk a lot about the German toy industry here on Small Talk. Just goes to show how prolific it used to be! One of the industry’s most important producers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Moritz Gottschalk company. Gottschalk is best known for its beautifully designed dollhouses, which mirrored the architectural styles of the day. The company also sold equally beautiful toy kitchens, general stores, horse stables, forts, and more. Like other toy companies in Germany, Gottschalk wanted to reach other European markets as well as America, so they offered their toy line via catalog. The catalogs provided model numbers, dates and specifications which makes identifying these gems over a century later a breeze!

The earliest line of Gottschalk toys were wooden dollhouses with blue painted roofs, chromolithographed paper facades, and Victorian architectural details. Mass production techniques made the manufacturing process faster and more efficient. Around 1910, the company switched to houses with red painted roofs and hand-painted facades. Seems a little counterintuitive, right? While no one really knows why this shift to a slower production method occurred, dollhouse historians believe the changes reflected popular taste.

A Miniature Trip to Versailles

Versailles_Smith

We like to bring back mementos from our travels: a postcard from the Grand Canyon, a souvenir spoon from Washington, D.C., a miniature Eiffel Tower from Paris. When miniature artists travel, they bring home inspiration and meticulous notes for their next project; Harry Smith’s mementos helped him craft this room in his beautiful Maine studio (with a little help from his cat).

Smith spent 6,000 hours on Louis XV’s “cabinet intérieur du Roi,” the king’s study or corner room, in the Palace of Versailles. As far as studies of the rich and famous go, Louis XV’s is one of the most luxurious. To create the room, Smith worked with many different mediums and processes. He hand-laid 2,200 individual pieces of wood for the parquet flooring. He hand-carved 3,300 gilded moldings to adorn the walls. He dressed the thirty-arm chandelier with 304 crystals. Each candle in the chandelier and throughout the room is wired to an electronic circuit board, enabling them to flicker at different speeds and intensities. And as if that wasn’t enough, Smith furnished the room with a replica of Louis’s cylinder top desk, which is inlaid with 36 different types of wood. He even carved a tiny key that sits in the desk’s keyhole!

Carving An Art Nouveau Spring

Jardiniere Carving

Earlier, we examined Linda LaRoche’s sketches for the jardinière, which were just the first part of the process! Using the detailed drawings, LaRoche sculpted a clay model of the jardinière’s base. Sculpting the model at approximately five times the size of the final product helped her learn the design so she could more easily replicate it in 1/12th scale.

Using the knowledge she gained while working on the clay model, LaRoche carved the base out of plumwood with tools she made by hand. Each side of the base features a different animal. One side has two crabs walking toward each other; the other has a coiled sea serpent or dolphin. The delicate cabriole legs feature tiny dolphin heads. With all of these incredible details, we think planting miniature flowers in this jardinière would only be a distraction!

The Secret Story of Toys Revealed

Secret Story of Toys

Much of T/m’s toy collection was produced by hand, whether in a cottage industry or on an assembly line. Workers in the 19th and early 20th centuries (some of them children themselves) painstakingly carved wooden animals, painted dollhouse roofs, or sewed doll clothing. But times have changed and so have toys and production methods. In an age where you can 3D print just about anything, we were surprised to learn about a group of toy artists that sculpt everything by hand, right here in Kansas City!

Local filmmaker Anthony Ladesich recently introduced us to the artists in his short documentary The Secret Story of Toys. The piece, selected for the Kansas City Film Festival last month, spotlights Kansas City toy makers Jason Frailey, Adam Smith, and Adrienne Smith. The team’s toy making process involves sculpting clay and casting from molds with an intense attention to detail… and we thought working here was cool!

Sunday Funday

Noah's Ark

How did you spend your Sunday last week? Maybe you went to the park, caught up on some reading, played Wii Sports Resort, or watched Game of Thrones… whatever you did, we hope it was relaxing! For children in Victorian times, Sunday was not a time for play, except of course with Sunday toys. In many households, Sunday was considered a day of rest and worship. Thus, Sunday toys were religious in nature and based off stories in the Bible.

Noah’s Ark was an extremely popular Sunday toy, complete with tiny carved and painted animal pairs. German cottage industries worked tirelessly to meet demand for these popular playthings, so much so that the tiny carved animals became known by the workers who made them as “misery beasts.” As the world grew more industrialized in the 19th and 20th centuries, toy companies like R. Bliss Manufacturing Company and Schoenhut also began making Noah’s Ark sets. Playing with a limited variety of toys on Sunday must have become tedious at some point, but play is all about using your imagination, right? We suppose some Victorian children didn’t exactly stick to the biblical storyline!

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