Small Talk / Exhibits

A Southwestern Sanctuary

thorne rooms new mexico dining room

The famous miniature Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago range from historical replicas influenced by patron and artist Narcissa Thorne’s travels abroad to striking reproductions of regional American home décor. These special rooms have been viewed, studied and enjoyed by generations (and even inspired a series of juvenile fiction books!).

The inspiration for one of our favorite works in the collection originates far from Thorne’s home in the Windy City. New Mexico Dining Room, c. 1940 includes small touches of both Pueblo Indian and Southwest American life, a style known as Pueblo Revival. Thorne’s eye for detail is not only apparent in the objects she chose to incorporate in the room setting, but also in the room construction itself. The kiva in the right corner of the room appears well-used with charring around its opening.  Colorful hand-loomed rugs, festively painted chairs, tiny retablos and intricately carved furniture all speak to the regional flavor that attracted many artists during New Mexico state’s early years.

Photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne. A34: New Mexico Dining Room, c.1940. c.1940. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

Playful Competition Winners

National Toy Hall of Fame

The ballots have been tallied and the results are in. Congratulations are in order for the newest inductees to the National Toy Hall of Fame: bubbles, the Rubik’s Cube, and little green army men everywhere!

No one knows when bubbles first floated into the world, but images of children playing with them first appear in 17th century Flemish paintings. Today there are a ton of different bubble makers on the market accounting for the purchase of more than 200 million bottles annually!

Little green army men first marched into our hearts in 1938. Younger siblings of metal and lead toy soldiers, these two to four inches of molded plastic represent mid-20th century United States military. Still produced in the millions by multiple manufacturers, these little guys continue to advance into children’s imaginations and toy boxes, and have even landed co-starring roles in the Toy Story films.

Last but not least, the colorful and ever-puzzling Rubik’s Cube was inducted during its 40th anniversary year. Congratulations to all the winners! Don’t worry if your favorite toy didn’t get in; there’s always next year.

Photo: Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Can You Solve It?

beyond rubik's cube exhibit

There are a lot of totally rad toys that are synonymous with the material world of the 1980s, but perhaps none more iconic than the colorful and ever-puzzling Rubik’s Cube. You might be surprised to learn that Ernő Rubik actually invented the puzzle, which he called the Magic Cube, in 1974 out of wood blocks and paper clips. A few design tweaks and a toy patent produced the re-named Rubik’s Cube that debuted internationally in 1980. Since then, approximately one in seven people have played with a Rubik’s Cube!

A new exhibit at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey takes the toy a step further. Beyond Rubik’s Cube is the first museum exhibit devoted to this iconic toy. An interactive gallery allows visitors to learn cube-solving skills, see the bejeweled Masterpiece Cube, hear a Cube Symphony, create a Rubik’s Cube mosaic, and more. Does the thought of solving the infamous Rubik’s Cube immediately give you a headache? Fear not: the exhibit also includes a specialized robot that is programmed to solve the puzzle in mere seconds- totally rad indeed! The exhibit is on view now through November 30, 2014.

Playful Competition

national toy hall of fame 2014

It’s that time of year again! The National Toy Hall of Fame has announced the finalists for the 2014 induction. And it looks as though we might be having a case of déjà vu… this year’s two inductees could be American Girl dolls, bubbles, Fisher Price Little People, Hess toy trucks, little green army men, My Little Pony, Operation Skill Game, paper airplane, pots and pans, Rubik’s Cube, Slip ‘N Slide, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Since the finalists were announced on September 22, almost 7,350 public votes have been cast. Make sure your opinion is included! Learn more about the finalists and vote on the Hall of Fame’s website. Check back there or here on Small Talk after November 6 to see if the bubbles float to the top or the pots and pans make a big bang!

Photo: Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Confiscated Toys Liberated Again

confiscation cabinets guy tarrant

It’s every grade school kid’s nightmare: bringing your newest, coolest toy to school to impress your friends only to have it end up in the teacher’s dreaded confiscation drawer. An exhibit on view earlier this year at the V&A Museum of Childhood displayed the captives of this proverbial toy Bastille and explored how exactly they got there. The exhibit, entitled Confiscation Cabinets is the idea of artist and teacher Guy Tarrant whose focus is on the interaction between pupils, play, and resistant behavior.

Tarrant, with the help of other teachers, collected confiscated toys and objects from over 150 different London schools over three decades. Each toy was labeled with the age and sex of the child it was confiscated from along with the year and location. Not surprisingly, some of our favorite classroom distractions were present: troll dolls, plastic creepy crawlies, action figures and play jewelry. However, some of the objects on display were a bit more sinister: aerosol cans used as flamethrowers, air guns, and even a tennis ball turned fire bomb. The display of all the objects together brings back some nostalgia- and perhaps anxiety- for grade school life.

Photo: Confiscation Cabinets © Guy Tarrant

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