Small Talk

American Folk Art in Miniature

American Folk Art in Miniature

A visit to the fine-scale miniature galleries at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is a trip around the world and through time. Today, our trip takes us to 1830s central New York. Therese Bahl and Jim Ison’s “A Tribute to the Classic Period of American Folk Art” is based on the parlor and hall of the Ezra Carroll House. Formerly in East Springfield, New York, the home was demolished in 1957, but not before the murals were salvaged and preserved at the Winterthur Museum and The Farmers’ Museum (a sigh of relief!). The murals are their own story; we’ll cover them in an upcoming post!

In addition to making miniatures, Bahl teaches early American decorative art and is a professed admirer of American folk artists Peter Ompir and Rufus Porter. Ison specializes in Shaker and Windsor furniture dating from 1650 to 1850. Their 1989 partnership was picture perfect, producing this parlor with a fireplace and two windows alongside an entryway with a staircase and two doors.

A Closer Look at Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

A Closer Look at Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

Eleanor Crocker’s beautiful doll Nellie represents a snapshot in the latest Victorian fashions. In the nineteenth century, women kept up to date on the season’s hottest looks by perusing periodicals filled with fashion plates or printed illustrations of dress designs. Some of these designs were made in doll sizes to demonstrate the fits, frills, and lacy details of the full-size gowns. Nellie’s “princess cut” windowpane plaid dress Nellie just wouldn’t be as fabulous in a picture.

French doll makers like E. Barrois and Jumeau capitalized on this trend by manufacturing bisque heads, arms and feet for these fashionable companions. Often, toy shops and department stores purchased the porcelain limbs from these doll makers, sewed them to leather or cloth bodies in-house, and outfitted them according to the mode du jour. Fully assembled dolls were then marketed under the name of a specific retail establishment. It’s likely that this is where Eleanor’s uncle found Nellie back in the 1860s.

Swedish Wooden Toys

Swedish Wooden Toys

The words “Swedish” and “wooden” next to each other might trigger visions of assembling IKEA furniture, but relax, we’re just talking about toys! Swedish Wooden Toys at the Bard Graduate Center is an in-depth exhibit showcasing Sweden’s affinity for wooden playthings from the seventeenth through the twenty-first century. Like toymaking powerhouse and neighbor Germany, Sweden’s abundant natural resources allowed for cottage industries and eventually large commercial firms to flourish.

The exhibit explores a wide variety of toys, including dollhouses, war toys, educational toys, puzzles, and of course winter toys. Since winter is Sweden’s longest season, toys for playing outdoors in the snow are a fundamental part of play. Although many toy companies began using plastic in the 1950s (and continue to use it today), the colorful, well-designed Swedish wooden toy tradition remains a refreshing look at playtimes past and present.

Photo: Courtesy of Bard Graduate Center. Gemla Leksaksfabrik AB. Train, 1910–15. Wood. © Roma Capitale—Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali—Collezione di giocattoli antichi, CGA LS 1982. Photographer: Bruce White.

Pedal to the Metal

Pedal to the Metal

T/m’s recent renovation included space for two temporary exhibit galleries. The first exhibit in the larger gallery focuses on America’s obsession with shiny metal bodies on four wheels. Pedal-powered cars, boats, and trucks grew in popularity in the 1950s as the rising American middle class moved to the suburbs. And as we all know, cars and the suburbs go hand in hand. Thunderbirds, Packards, and Dodges introduced children to the freedom and responsibility of the open road.

Pedal to the Metal: Pedal Cars and American Car Culture features cars from T/m’s collection, the collections of several local individuals, and vehicles from the Smith Collection at the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska. Some of our personal favorites include the 1955 Good Humor Truck, 1941 Steelcraft Pursuit Plane, 1960 Deluxe “Flat Face” Dude Wagon, and the 1953 Torpedo. Pedal to the Metal rolls out August 28, 2016, so you have plenty of time to cruise in and see it!

Filigree Finery

Filigree Finery

You just never know where or when inspiration will hit you. Unless, of course, you’re artist William R. Robertson, who seeks out his inspiration in the rare and refined decorative arts collections of some of the world’s best museums. This 1:12 scale chest was inspired by a trip to the Musée le Secq des Tournelles (The Wrought Iron Museum) in Rouen, France.

While noble houses of 17th century Europe would use boxes like these to store valuables like jewelry, although this miniature version might only hold a couple of gemstones. Robertson constructed the chest with ebony and 18 karat gold filigree panels, each with a crisp beaded edge. The box lid is hinged and features a functional lock and key. As a special touch, the artist microscopically signed his name beneath the handle, but don’t strain your eyes trying to read it!

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