Small Talk

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.

Meet Our Friendship Doll

Mrs F

As part of the 1927 international doll exchange between the U.S. and Japan, 58 Japanese dolls traveled to the U.S., and were distributed coast to coast amongst museums and public venues. On a diplomatic mission to promote peace and understanding between the two countries, these ichimatsu ningyo became known as the Japanese Friendship Dolls.

Just who were they? Let us introduce you… each doll represented a different Japanese city, prefecture or territory. Expertly designed and constructed by Japanese artists, the dolls stand 32” high, have wigs of human hair, and glass eyes. Each had her own set of accessories, including a traditional tea set, travel trunk, and a richly styled kimono. Look closely at each doll’s kimono to find a unique mon, or crest, repeated in the pattern (sort of like the Houses at Hogwarts)!

The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is home to Miss Fukushima, one of the Friendship Dolls representing a Japanese prefecture. We’re proud to have “Miss F.” here at the museum, as she is one of the most intact of the original 1927 group. Over 40 of Miss Fukushima’s original accessories came with her to T/m including two tea sets, a sewing kit, and even a booklet entitled “Japanese Children and Dolls’ Tea-service.”

Strike a Pose

French Fashion Dolls

While we think all of our dolls are quite fashionable, a special set of Parisian dolls take the cake! Dating from 1900 to 1917, the dolls produced by Mesdames Louise Lafitte and Augusta Désirat represent different fashions and themes from “nurse” to “theatre.” The dolls were sold in the United States at the Gimbels department store as “style mannequins.”

The dolls’ bodies are wire armatures with wax heads and simple painted features to guarantee that the clothes and accessories are the star! And star they do; the two sisters styled their dolls with only the finest materials: ostrich feathers, fur, velvet, mohair, lace, and silk. Each doll strikes a pose on a round wood base that is often marked with a year, signature, and stamp (which really helps us out here at T/m!). Whether standing or sitting on a chair or cushion, these ladies are runway ready.

The Toy King

Marx Motorcycle Delivery

While The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures displays generations of childhood through dolls, dollhouses, trains, soldiers, teddy bears, and much more, other museums focus on just one type of toy or toy company. The Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville, West Virginia, has the largest display of toys from Louis Marx and Company in the world; that’s over six decades of toys!

The museum details not only the toys, but the history and stories of Louis Marx, described as “The Toy King” on a 1955 Time magazine cover; the company he founded in 1919; and the factory workers employed in his three Pennsylvania and West Virginia facilities. Marx branded his toys with his name and was the first inductee to the Toy Industry Hall of Fame where his plaque proclaims him “The Henry Ford of the Toy Industry.” No wonder he has his own museum!

In the 1950s, the company was the largest toy manufacturer in the world. Don’t think you can name a Marx toy? Think again! Although the name is now largely forgotten (Marx sold the company in 1972), the company developed Rock’em Sock’em Robots and the Big Wheel tricycle. The toys bore the slogan, “One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?” We sure know one place that does: the Marx Toy Museum!

Photo: Motorcycle Delivery, Marx USA 1950s. Wikimedia Commons.

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