Small Talk / Exhibits

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.

Nintendo Nostalgia

Nintendo Exhibit

When you hear the name Nintendo, you probably think of the iconic, gray video game console, a pair of mustached plumbers, and maybe even that snickering dog from Duck Hunt (what a jerk!). Surprisingly, Nintendo’s games go much further back: 125 years back with a deck of playing cards! Nintendo’s products included an electronic “Love Tester” and arcade games before they made it big with their home game console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, in 1985.

Nintendo’s games, characters, and even the consoles themselves continue to resonate with new generations of players. The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games and Ritsumeikan University in Japan have produced an exhibit celebrating the Nintendo Entertainment System’s 30 year anniversary. Visitors can view some of the early NES design plans, watch an interview with a Nintendo hardware designer, and play several games like Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3, and Mario Kart Arcade GP. The best part? You won’t have to blow on any of the cartridges in order to play the games!
Photo: Courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York.

Lights, Camera, Miniatures!

Miniature museum in lyon

Like T/m, Lyon, France’s Musée Miniature et Cinéma features two distinct, yet related collections. Rather than toys, this French museum collects, conserves, and displays a variety of cinema props and objects, many of which are actually miniatures in their own right. For generations, filmmakers have used small-scale models and dioramas as a less expensive alternative to filming in an exotic location, or using full-scale props, or computer-generated imagery. Miniatures can have a use beyond just art you know!

The other half of the collection at Musée Miniature et Cinéma focuses on fine-scale miniatures, many of which were created by the museum’s founder, Dan Ohlmann. Formally trained as a cabinetmaker, Ohlmann works in a variety of media, and is especially drawn to the curvaceous (and difficult to recreate!) Art Nouveau style. Operating in a historic sixteenth-century building, the museum also houses a workshop for miniature artisans, who at the moment are collaborating on a scaled-down version of the Brasserie Georges.
Photo: Restaurant Maxim’s de Paris, Dan Ohlmann. Courtesy of Musée Miniature et Cinéma.

Swedish Wooden Toys

swedish wooden toys

The words “Swedish” and “wooden” next to each other might trigger visions of assembling IKEA furniture, but relax, we’re just talking about toys! Swedish Wooden Toys at the Bard Graduate Center is an in-depth exhibit showcasing Sweden’s affinity for wooden playthings from the seventeenth through the twenty-first century. Like toymaking powerhouse and neighbor Germany, Sweden’s abundant natural resources allowed for cottage industries and eventually large commercial firms to flourish.

The exhibit explores a wide variety of toys, including dollhouses, war toys, educational toys, puzzles, and of course winter toys. Since winter is Sweden’s longest season, toys for playing outdoors in the snow are a fundamental part of play. Although many toy companies began using plastic in the 1950s (and continue to use it today), the colorful, well-designed Swedish wooden toy tradition remains a refreshing look at playtimes past and present.

Photo: Courtesy of Bard Graduate Center. Gemla Leksaksfabrik AB. Train, 1910–15. Wood. © Roma Capitale—Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali—Collezione di giocattoli antichi, CGA LS 1982. Photographer: Bruce White.

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