Small Talk / Exhibits

Design for Eternity

Design for Eternity

The phrase “you can’t take it with you” certainly hasn’t been around forever. As The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit Design for Eternity: Architectural Models from the Ancient Americas shows, ancient Mesoamerican and Andean cultures may have believed quite the opposite. From 100 B.C. until European contact in the sixteenth century, artists in the ancient Americas created small-scale models to be placed in the tombs of important individuals.

Although there is very little documentation on how these objects were used, Maya hieroglyphs refer to the miniature structures as “god houses” or “sleeping places for the gods.” The exhibit includes examples of these models in a variety of materials including ceramic, wood, stone, and metal that replicate historic palaces, temples, and everyday living spaces. Even though their original intentions may be lost, it’s fascinating to see evidence of humankind’s long-standing interest in miniature art.
Photo: House Model, 100 B.C.-A.D. 200, Nayarit, Mexico. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org.

Small Cities in a Big World

Miniature Cities

This falls into the category of “don’t breathe” or “we thought houses of cards were difficult;” these artists have taken it to the next level. In 2010, artist Peter Root spent 40 hours standing 100,000 staples on end to build a miniature city inspired by New York City that he called Ephemicropolis.

Stan Munro builds famous landmarks out of toothpicks. What started as a 5th grade art project turned into Toothpick City. The City features more than 50 famous structures from around the world (the Space Needle, Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge) made out of six million toothpicks and 170 liters of glue. Now on permanent exhibit in a Spanish museum, Munro has continued crafting, including Toothpick City 2 at the Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse, New York.

Artist Meschac Gaba made a large-scale model of a fantasy city featuring landmark buildings from around the world (Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera House, Empire State Building). Seems simple enough, right? What if I told you it was all made out of sugar? Meschac Gaba: Sweetness includes 600 buildings, measures 30 feet by 20 feet, and took two years to build. Talk about sweet!
Photo: Toothpick City 2, MOST.org.

Imagining Home

Eugene Kupjack

We already know that fine-scale miniatures are an important part of any fine art collection. And the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) agrees. The Cheney Miniatures Gallery at the BMA features miniature rooms with English and American interior styles of the 17th to the 19th century. BMA honorary trustee Elizabeth F. Cheney commissioned Eugene Kupjack to create the rooms.

Four of the BMA’s 1:12 scale rooms are included in their newest exhibition Imagining Home, which explores different ideas and aspects of the places in which we live – whether decorative or functional, real or ideal, celebratory or critical. The exhibit, on view until August 1, 2018, will continually rotate works so there will always be something new to see. We for one would like to see Kupjack’s Shaker Community room, Southern Plantation entrance hall, New Orleans Rococo Revival Parlor, and urban New England Dining Room.
Photo: Eugene J. Kupjack. Entrance Hall in a Southern Plantation, 1780-1810. 1963-1984. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, Chicago, and Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth S. Battye, Baltimore. BMA 2012.626

A Portland Toylandia

Portland Toy Museum

It’s not hard to get a sense of the voracious collecting bug Frank Kidd has. Ever since purchasing his first pedal car as an adult in the 1960s, he’s lived under the motto “buy or die” when it comes to collecting antique toys. Kidd’s collection grew so large that he eventually closed his auto parts business and converted the space to display it.

Visitors to this unassuming industrial building-turned-museum in Portland, Oregon will find 20,000 toys on view (a fraction of Kidd’s collection!). A major portion of his toys are cast iron banks. During the machine age, cast iron banks were a great way to use mechanical technology for entertainment while also teaching kids the value of saving money. Unfortunately, many cast iron banks reflected nineteenth-century values on race as well and reinforced negative stereotypes. Kidd’s collection provides a glimpse into the changing world at the turn of the last century, and offers a stark comparison with the ever-diversifying toys of today.
Photo: Kidd’s Toy Museum.

Cartoons Turned into Paper Dolls

Jackie Ormes

T/m’s newest exhibit, Stereotypes to Civil Rights: Black Paper Dolls in America, features work from the first African American female cartoonist: Jackie Ormes. Ormes created playful, often politically charged strips for readers of 15 African American newspapers across the country, including the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier, from the 1930s to the 1950s. There would not be another nationally syndicated black female cartoonist until the 1990s

Smart, classy, glamorous, bold, and rebellious, Torchy Brown was one of Ormes’ most beloved characters. Torchy first appeared as a Mississippi teen finding fame and fortune as a Cotton Club singer and dancer in the 1937-1938 comic strip Torchy Brown in “Dixie to Harlem.” Torchy reappeared in 1950’s Torchy in Heartbeats as a beautiful, independent woman encountering adventure in a pursuit for her true love.

In addition to creating the first upscale black doll to have a whole line of clothes, Patty Jo from her comic Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger, Ormes turned Torchy into a paper doll (bet you can’t guess where you might see it now through August 21, 2016?!). Torchy was so curvaceous that it was rumored servicemen used the paper dolls as pin-ups!
Photo: Torchy Brown Heartbeats, February 3, 1951, Comic Section, Pittsburgh Courier. Courtesy of Nancy Goldstein, www.jackieormes.com.

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