Small Talk / Exhibits

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

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

Masterminding Historical Interiors

eugene kupjack

In the late 1930s, Eugene Kupjack read a magazine article about Narcissa Thorne’s miniature rooms. Kupjack, trained in art and set design, took pieces of Lucite and fashioned them into a chair, a dish, and tiny glasses. He mailed them off to Mrs. Thorne—and six weeks later, he got a phone call. Mrs. Thorne loved his work. Would he come create some pieces for her?

Kupjack’s work as the principle artisan on 37 of the 62 Thorne Rooms launched his career in miniature-making, and he is now considered to be a father of the art form. Kupjack created approximately 700 miniature rooms during his career. Over the decades, Kupjack worked with many different mediums, but became particularly interested in creating silver miniatures after famous historical pieces, including Martha Washington’s tea tray and Paul Revere’s tankard. Today, Kupjack’s sons are active miniature artisans, and his work continues to awe visitors at the Art Institute of Chicago and museums around the world. As one 1971 Thorne Rooms viewer mused, “To see them is to marvel at the magic of his fingers and the ingeniousness of his mind that created this tiny room.”

Preserving Historical Interiors

eugene kupjack

T/m’s miniature collection was greatly influenced by three spectacular commissions in the 1970s. We’ve already examined Queen Mary’s Doll House and Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, so now it’s time to examine the third: the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the 1920s, museums across the United States from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Detroit Institute of Arts were premiering full-scale period interiors. After traveling through Europe, Narcissa Thorne, daughter-in-law of the co-founder of Montgomery Ward and Company, dreamed of miniature rooms as a space-saving alternative to documenting, sharing, and preserving historical interiors.

Thorne began with 24 rooms that were exhibited to great acclaim between 1933 and 1940 at Chicago’s Century of Progress ExpositionSan Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition, and New York’s 1939-1940 World’s Fair. Over the years, she commissioned additional rooms for a total of 68 interiors spanning Europe from the late 13th century to the 1930s and America from the 17th century to the 1930s. They are now on view across the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago. We’ll be looking at some of the rooms in depth over time, but for now, check out this then-and-now postcard collection.

Photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne. California Living Room, 1850-1875, c. 1940 The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

The Toy King

louis marx and co toys

While The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures displays generations of childhood through dolls, dollhouses, trains, soldiers, teddy bears, and much more, other museums focus on just one type of toy or toy company. The Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville, West Virginia, has the largest display of toys from Louis Marx and Company in the world; that’s over six decades of toys!

The museum details not only the toys, but the history and stories of Louis Marx, described as “The Toy King” on a 1955 Time magazine cover; the company he founded in 1919; and the factory workers employed in his three Pennsylvania and West Virginia facilities. Marx branded his toys with his name and was the first inductee to the Toy Industry Hall of Fame where his plaque proclaims him “The Henry Ford of the Toy Industry.” No wonder he has his own museum!

In the 1950s, the company was the largest toy manufacturer in the world. Don’t think you can name a Marx toy? Think again! Although the name is now largely forgotten (Marx sold the company in 1972), the company developed Rock’em Sock’em Robots and the Big Wheel tricycle. The toys bore the slogan, “One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?” We sure know one place that does: the Marx Toy Museum!

Photo: Motorcycle Delivery, Marx USA 1950s. Wikimedia Commons.

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