Small Talk

Getting the Inside Scoop

Getting the Inside Scoop

Ever wonder what exactly makes Jack jump out of a perfectly good box? Or thought about how a plush Elmo masters the hokey pokey? The answers to these important toy questions and more can be found in Toys: The Inside Story , a traveling exhibit developed by the Montshire Museum of Science in Vermont.

Fourteen interactive stations allow museum visitors to discover the basics of toy animation through the hands-on manipulation of gears and circuits. Visitors can build a series of linkages that make Hungry Hippo chomp or learn about the wires that guide an Etch A Sketch’s drawing line. One station reveals how Operation’s Cavity Sam’s nose lights up when pretend surgery goes awry! Toys has traveled to venues nationwide, and will open at the Tellus Science Museum this summer.

Photo: Gary Hodges – www.jonreis.com

An Impressive Press

An Impressive Press

In November 2013, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History accepted a small depiction of American history from an unlikely source. Before retiring from Duke University’s Divinity School, Professor Richard Heitzenrater created a miniature replica of the printing press Benjamin Franklin used as an apprentice between 1725 and 1726. Heitzenrater used the small piece as a teaching tool, showing his students the intricate process behind 18th century printmaking.

The small press’s construction so matches that of the original press that tiny wooden pegs hold almost all of the item’s joints together. Heizenrater’s miniature joins the original, full-sized press, which the museum has owned since 1901. And both of the Smithsonian items also match T/m’s fully functional miniature press, pictured above, by William L. Gould.

The Walls of 17 Winter Street

The Walls of 17 Winter Street

Like many young ladies near the turn of the century, Mamie Burt learned household management as she decorated and played with the dolls (and animals) that lived inside her dollhouse. Many of the rooms, from the music room to the hallway, are decorated with original wallpaper and gold cornices. Most likely Mamie used leftover pieces of real wallpaper to decorate her dollhouse. We like to imagine that her dollhouse looked a lot like the rooms in her real house.

Look on the far left and you’ll see that the parlor even has a pocket door! Pocket doors were common in Victorian homes to close off sitting rooms and dens, and a practical solution for a dollhouse where there is no room for the swing of a hinged door.

Framing the Miniature Madame

Framing the Miniature Madame

When we’re visiting another museum or gallery, we’ll admit it’s easy to miss what’s around the works of art: the frames. Which is a shame, because they are often works of art themselves! The same might be true of framed fine-scale miniature paintings. Upon closer inspection however, these gilded borders really shine. As we’ve discussed previously on SmallTalk, Johannes Landman is a miniaturist in a range of media. Once Landman had completed the miniature painting Madame de Pompadour, he mounted it in a custom-made frame.

To achieve fine-scale miniature accuracy, Landman used western ewe wood for its fine grain. He was able to shape the curves and tiny details of the frame using a Flexcut carving tool. Lastly, Landman gilded the wood using 24 karat gold imported from Italy. The finished product is a beautiful and classically designed frame fit for a queen … or in this case, a royal mistress!

Banned for Life

Banned for Life

You’re probably familiar with The Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, where rejected playthings find community amongst ice and snow hoping for a ride in Santa’s sleigh. (Who wouldn’t want a water gun that shoots jelly?!) In reality, lawmakers and the public call for the removal of many “misfit” toys from store shelves for safety reasons ranging from choking hazards to toxic paint.

Luckily, the Banned Toy Museum in Burlingame, California provides a home for prohibited toys. Started in 2009, this collection features everything from hand-chomping Cabbage Patch dolls and lead-painted Sponge Bob notebooks to science kits containing uranium ore samples. Like the rest of the museum’s objects, these were banned for being too offensive or hazardous to consumers. It may not be a ride with Santa, but the museum will preserve these ill-fated playthings for years to come!

Photo: Battlestar Galactica Missile Launcher, 1979, Mattel, United States. Courtesy of the Banned Toy Museum.

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