Small Talk

Moving Day

Packing Objects

Every day is moving day (kind of like Groundhog Day) when you have 72,000 objects to move! We’ve been busy at T/m preparing for renovations and planning ahead for what comes after… like the new collection section on the museum website, new exhibitions, and new marketing materials. In January, T/m welcomed Darryl Bernstein and Kayte Price to photograph some of our objects. The results look great! We look forward to featuring them here.

Then it was back to packing. While we wish we could throw everything in a box and mark it “Kitchen” (which is totally what some of the staff will be doing with their offices), it takes a long time to carefully and lovingly pack and track each toy soldier, doll accessory, and miniature dining set.

Where can you store a museum’s worth of precious collection objects? Kansas City has some wonderful, natural storage locations with the perfect climate conditions for preserving objects: caves! But, they’re not your typical stalactite and stalagmite, bat-filled, dark, damp enclosures. These caves are spotless and a perfect temporary home for our objects. It’s very sad to watch the display cases slowly empty, but the changes taking place during the renovation will ensure an appropriate environment for the collection’s preservation and enjoyment for future generations.

Bearing It All

Steiff Teddy Bear

An avid hunter, outdoorsman, and statesman, with his signature bristly mustache and furled brow, we often think of President Teddy Roosevelt as a tough and gruff historical figure who carried a big stick. But did you know that the oh-so-cuddly teddy bear was named after him? It all started when he went on a Mississippi bear hunting trip in 1902. Other members of the hunting party had successful outings, but not Roosevelt. Pitying his failure, a hunting guide cornered an elderly bear and tethered it to a tree for Roosevelt to shoot. Being a sportsman and a diplomat, he refused to kill the poor, helpless animal. A political cartoonist at The Washington Post caught wind of this story and illustrated the event. The story captured Americans’ hearts and gave rise to the furry friend we know and love today.

The teddy bear pictured above was photographed with his owner Mable Dixon during the first years of America’s teddy bear craze in 1906. Manufactured by the Steiff Company, he is made of mohair, yarn, and wool felt with glass eyes. According to the recorded oral history that accompanied the bear to T/m, Mable’s mother passed away when she was young. When her father remarried, she was sent to live with her grandparents. Mable recalled that she would hit the bear on the nose when she was frustrated with her father. Notice the worn mohair? Ever-empathetic, we like to think this bear would get Teddy Roosevelt’s stamp of approval: “BULLY!”

Roominate Illuminates STEM Skills

Roominate Dollhouse

As Stanford Engineering graduate students, friends Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen saw firsthand the lack of women interested in STEM fields. With only 11% of engineers being women, they knew something had to be done to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math at a young age. They realized that the toys they played with as girls were instrumental in developing the basic skills that built their interest in engineering as adults.  After consulting with professors, middle school teachers, and parents, the idea for a new toy was born: Roominate.

Roominate is a colorful building kit, similar to Erector Sets, Legos, or TinkerToys, that includes electrical circuitry, motors, and decorative elements like craft paper and pipe cleaners. The toy appeals to girls age 8 to 12 by combining construction elements with classic dollhouse play, allowing them to creatively build, while developing problem solving and spatial skills. Brooks and Chen developed a prototype and posted the project on the crowd funding website Kickstarter.com.  After just a month, the project earned over $85,000, more than three times their goal of $25,000. Roominate is now being sold in stores nationwide… furthering the company’s mission of “empowering the next generation of STEM women by changing the way girls play.” You go, girls!

Replicating The House That Abe Built

Lincoln Cabin Close-up

Steve Jedd estimates that he and Allison Ashby spent roughly 800 hours on their miniature replica of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home. During a visit to The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in 2011, the artists told us that their work is illusion, that the scale, especially the scale of the wood grain and the wood’s durability, is more important than the authenticity of the materials.

Ashby and Jedd built Lincoln’s cabin from the ground up with a stone foundation and fireplace of carved and painted basswood, and door and windows of beech. They used old Cyprus for the flooring because it looks like pine. And in order to make the logs look hand hewn, they took cedar lumber, cut it down to length, and then used hammers, chisels, and wire brushes to make it look weathered.

A Fair to Remember

Carnival Ride

Who doesn’t love the fair? The lights, the cotton candy, the spinning rides … ok, maybe those aren’t for everyone. The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (or Chicago World’s Fair) marked the beginning of traveling carnival companies. The fair exhibited the most cutting edge technologies and innovations of the day and provided a fun diversion for spectators. On the edge of the fair was a pedestrian walkway called the Midway Plaisance, which hosted spectacles such as freak shows, burlesque shows, games, and carnival rides including the first Ferris wheel!

Naturally, the idea of traveling carnivals caught on. In the years that followed the fair, dozens of traveling carnival companies popped up and toured the country one city at a time. Toy companies took notice of the burgeoning industry, and carnival-themed toys began to pop up too. The Hubley Toy Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania was originally founded in 1894 as a train equipment company, but later switched to manufacturing toys like this carnival gondola ride at the turn of the century. A key-wound clockwork mechanism activates the ride, causing the gondolas to slide from side to side as the wheels turn. Carnival toys like this one were a great way to enjoy the rides after the carnival left town (especially if the real thing made you a little queasy!).

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