Small Talk Tag: Inspiration

An Impressive Press

miniature printing press

As with most museums, getting items accepted into the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History can be tricky business. However, in November 2013, the museum almost immediately accepted a small depiction of American history from an unlikely source. Before retiring from Duke University’s Divinity School, Professor Richard Heitzenrater created a miniature replica of the printing press Benjamin Franklin used as an apprentice between 1725 and 1726. The innovative professor used the small piece as a teaching tool, showing his students the intricate process behind 18th century printmaking.

The small press’s construction so matches that of the original press that tiny wooden pegs hold almost all of the item’s joints together. Heizenrater’s miniature joins the original, full-sized press, which the museum has owned since 1901. And both of the Smithsonian items also match T/m’s fully functional miniature press, pictured above, by William L. Gould.

Teddy Bear Tales

Teddy Bear Tales

Who exactly protects us from those things that go “bump” in the night as kids? According to comic artists Nick Davis and Dan Nokes, “He has amber eyes, yet he never blinks, a smiley mouth, yet never talks. And if you look closely enough, you can see a little white stuffing poking out of his portly-shaped belly.” Davis and Nokes created a dream team of monster-fighting heroes with an unlikely source as its leader: a teddy bear named Tristan.  Calling themselves the Cuddly Defenders, the gang of plush toys defends children from the dangers of monsters under the bed in a quarterly, 24-page epic series.

The project received funding this past November through a Kickstarter campaign. Now in full production, the ever-expanding comic series is available online. Fans of the series (or those who may have a monster under the bed) can also purchase handmade plush versions of their favorite characters on the site.

Photo: Courtesy of Nick Davis.

Toys Take the Stage

the toy museum of ny

Given how much children love playtime, it seems logical that a teacher would want to incorporate more toys into their classroom lesson plans. The Toy Museum: A Mini Musical offers instructors the ability to do just that. Whether it’s language arts, social studies, performing arts, or the concept of sharing, the play (about playing) offers an educational experience for students from pre-K to third grade.

The event’s main character, Queen Marlene, guides the audience through magical stories of toy history, and a large doll, Rosie Rascal, stirs up trouble for the rest of the characters on stage. The show was written and produced by the Toy of Museum of NY’s founder Marlene Hochman. A strong believer in the power of toys as educational tools, Hochman told The New York Times, “If we let our young children today sit in front of a computer or to play with electronic games, we are not giving them the opportunity to think on their own or to create on their own. It’s already preprogrammed, so what kind of inventors are we going to have?”

Photo: Courtesy of the Toy Museum of NY.

Happy Accidents

toys invented by accident

Would you believe that the infamous Etch-a-Sketch was inspired by the replacing of a light switch?! Originally called, “The Magic Screen,” the toy’s inventor was working as an electrician when noticed that drawing on a light plate’s decal cover created images on its opposite side.

The truth is, many toys have accidental origins. So many, in fact, that the National Retail Federation compiled a list of the top ten most stumbled-upon playthings, including Play-Doh. Its creators had only intended the compound to serve as wallpaper cleaner. The oldest toy on the list is the Slinky. In 1945, Richard James, a naval engineer, dropped a tension spring he was creating for a battleship and watched it “slink” down a staircase. Two years later, Richard and his wife Betty sold 400 Slinkys during a 90-minute demonstration at Gimbel’s Department Store.

Photo: Inside view of an Etch-A-sketch toy showing the plotter-like inner mechanism, with the aluminium dust removed, Wikimedia Commons.

Beautiful Builder Bangles

emiko oye LEGO jewelry

Artist emiko oye told Smithsonian Magazine that as a child she avoided playing with LEGO sets because of the brand’s boy-centric design and advertising. However, her contribution to the Smithsonian’s Craft2Wear event in October 2014 offered reclamation of the small building blocks for women and girls. Using plastic LEGO pieces, oye fashioned bold bracelets and intricate necklaces that rival the high-end geometric baubles seen on runways around the world.

Founded in 1932, LEGO got its name from the Danish phrase “leg godt,” or “play well.” First produced by LEGO in 1949, the plastic, inner-locking bricks allow children of all ages to assemble endless systems of buildings and pathways. Today, LEGO features female characters and a wider range of building sets in its product line to attract young girls. oye says she noticed the ability of LEGO to inspire young minds. “I saw this media that was limitless, pretty much, and always changing and evolving … [and]… everybody has a connection to LEGO in some way … Their eyes light up when they see my work because it touches in them something very personal and that’s how jewelry really is.”

Photo: emiko oye.

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