Small Talk / Exhibits

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.

Fame Game Winners

toy hall of fame inductees

The votes are in and the advisory committee has spoken: the 2015 Toy Hall of Fame Inductees are… drum roll please… puppet, Twister, and Super Soaker! Winning out over 9 other toys, this year’s group represents different types of play: imaginative, active, and outdoor fun. The toys also hail from different periods ranging from ancient times to the 1980s.

Stringed and hand puppets are among some of the oldest toys inducted into the Hall of Fame. Puppets can be found in nearly every culture dating back thousands of years; Plato and Aristotle even wrote about them in ancient Greece! The polka-dotted game of Twister has somewhat of a checkered past. When it debuted in the mid-1960s, Sears refused to carry it due to its “racy” nature. Until, that is, Johnny Carson and Eva Gabor famously played the game on The Tonight Show in 1966—and the game’s sales skyrocketed. Super Soaker was invented when a NASA scientist tinkered with the power of pressurized air using a PVC pipe and a soda bottle. Marketed for the first time in 1990, 27 million Super Soakers were sold over the next three years. Think this year’s inductees are all wet? Nominate your favorite toy for next year’s competition!
Photo courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York.

Narcissa’s Knoxville Rooms

knoxville museum of art thorne rooms

While viewing the fine-scale miniature collection here at T/m, many of our guests quickly draw a comparison to the famous Thorne Rooms at The Art Institute of Chicago. Created in the 1930s and ‘40s by Narcissa Thorne and numerous artists, these miniature room settings depict historical decorative arts periods in America.

You might be surprised to learn that a sizable collection of nine of Thorne’s room settings are in the permanent collection of the Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA) in Tennessee. In 1962, IBM (yup, the computer company) purchased many of the rooms, nine of which made their way to Knoxville. Visitors to KMA can travel through time via a miniature medieval bedroom, a federal dining room, and an early American kitchen. The room settings there represent not only important decorative arts movements, but also the early years of fine-scale miniature art.
Photo: Federal Dining Room, c. 1810, Knoxville Museum of Art.

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