Small Talk / Exhibits

Toys Go Pop

andy warhol toy series

We all know of Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup cans, but few pop art fans know of his series of artworks based on his own toy collection. In 2014, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art hosted Andy Warhol: Toy Paintings for the Whole Family, an exhibition curated by The Andy Warhol Museum. The exhibit consisted of 86 Warhol works, including silkscreens and drawings with colorful images of playful puppies, swinging monkeys, drum-playing pandas, and whimsical depictions of transportation.

As an artist exploring the concepts of branding and consumerism, some images in Warhol’s toy series actually depict the packaging of these toys, similar to his Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo boxes. The mechanical puppy, for example, includes the warning “Not recommended for children under three years of age.” Blurring the lines between high art and everyday playthings, these toy images have more than earned their “15 minutes of fame.”

Photo: Kellermann, Germany 1938, Wikimedia Commons.

Eloise Kruger’s Meticulous Collection

eloise kruger miniature collection

While many men fought abroad during World War II, Eloise Kruger’s gumption led her to climb the career ladder from a secretarial position to the head of an all-woman accounting firm. When she began collecting fine-scale miniatures in 1939, she used the same tenacity. In 1997, she left her entire collection of more than 20,000 historically accurate decorative arts miniatures to the College of Architecture at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, now free for public viewing during the week.

The Kruger Collection includes miniature replicas of just about everything you would find in a household, including a kitchen sink! She meticulously recorded every detail available regarding each of her miniatures, including important commission information and correspondence with Eric Pearson, one of the first professional miniature makers in the United States. A whopping 800 books accompanied the collection when it arrived at the university—talk about attention to detail!

Photo: The Kruger Collection, University of Nebraska- Lincoln.

Gilbert’s Great Girders

Erector Set's 100th anniversary

The history of the Erector Set’s creator is just as interesting as the popularity of the toy itself. During his studies at Yale, A. C. Gilbert was an accomplished athlete and even won a gold medal for pole-vaulting in the 1908 Olympic Summer Games in London. When he wasn’t dominating a sport, Gilbert honed his skills as a successful magician.

We aren’t sure exactly when he found the time to sleep! Surrounded by the marvels of 20th century industrial architecture trends, Gilbert managed to find enough free time to create the first Erector Set in 1913. With it, he managed to bring the realism of these new technologies to the hands of American children. His hope was that the set would inspire the progression of these novel ideas for generations to come. A 2013 exhibit at The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop called The Erector Set at 100 traced the century-long legacy of Gilbert’s famous toy and connects it to the modern maker movement’s focus on technology and DIY.

Photo: The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop

I Had One of Those!

minnesota history center toys

If you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer (or even if you’re not), chances are you remember making a Slinky crawl down the stairs, baking a tiny cake with a light bulb, or putting Mr. Potato Head’s ear where his mouth normally appears. Childhood experiences like these are all brought back to life in a special exhibit at The Minnesota History Center called Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

After World War II, the mid-century decades saw cultural advances that affected the way Americans work, live, and play. Everything from the rise of car culture, to the space race, to Saturday morning cartoons found their way onto the living room floor in the form of toys and imaginative play. Although the exhibit ends on January 4, curators have created a special companion book outlining all of the exhibit’s toy treasures.

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

The Adorned Thorne Rooms

thorne rooms christmas

Have you ever wanted to peek into the delight and spirit of holiday seasons gone by? Well, we have good news. One of the most festive holiday traditions at The Art Institute of Chicago is the annual decking of the Thorne Rooms’ halls. Some of the tiny period rooms don long garlands and dainty, dangling mistletoe. In the English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, for example, a miniature Christmas tree sits atop a small table, complete with tall red candles on its limbs and a set of dolls resting beneath its bottom branches. In the modern-era California Hallway, a tiny blue menorah sits on a coffee table next to a box holding a dreidel.

In addition to regional, historically accurate décor in several other period rooms, this year’s special display also includes new decorations in honor of the Chinese New Year, a 15-day celebration marked by the lunar calendar. Common commemorative accents in the display will include tiny lanterns, floral arrangements, and banners inscribed with traditional Chinese sayings and idioms.

Photo: Mrs. James Thorne. English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, 1840-70 (detail), c. 1937. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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