Small Talk / Exhibits

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.

Fame Game

National Toy Hall of Fame

After carefully reviewing hundreds of public nominations, a team of curators, scholars, and historians at The Strong National Museum of Play have announced the 2015 finalists for induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame. Some perennial favorites like the scooter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and American Girl Dolls are back in the running after not making last year’s cut. New contenders Playmobil, coloring books, Jenga, puppets, tops, Twister, Wiffle Ball, Battleship, and Super Soakers will also take aim for a spot in the newly-redesigned Toy Hall of Fame galleries.

And so America, it’s up to you to do your civic duty and vote for your favorite toy now through November 4. The winners will be announced Thursday, November 5. Not feeling so nostalgic about this year’s dozen finalists? Nominate your favorite toy to be included in the 2016 running!
Photo courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York.

Crazy for Kewpies

Kewpie Doll

With their large pointy heads, cherubic bodies, and mischievous facial expressions, Kewpies have become a doll icon over the last century. These potbellied babies were dreamed up by illustrator Rose O’Neil in 1909 and first appeared as a comic for Ladies’ Home Journal. Creative and entrepreneurial, O’Neil developed Kewpies into a line of bisque dolls with the help of German toy company Waltershausen. The dolls were such a success that Kewpies began appearing in advertising campaigns and on products, and they even promoted the women’s suffrage movement.

O’Neil’s Walnut Shade, Missouri, estate now houses the Bonniebrook Gallery, Museum, and Homestead. Visitors can view some of her earliest commercial illustrations, artwork, and hundreds of antique Kewpies. Although Kewpie dolls may not be actively campaigning for social justice or selling JELL-O anymore, they do continue to make the occasional appearance. Japanese “Kewpie fusion” toys are a new spin on the old doll, and rival schools should definitely watch out for this rough-and-tumble football mascot!
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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