Small Talk Tag: Toy

Building a History of Toys

Randy Regier

Visual artist Randy Regier plays with the present and past by creating new, vintage-inspired toy sculptures which look as if they have existed for decades—obviously, we at the museum are big fans! We recently caught up with Regier to discuss some of his work and inspiration. Surprisingly, Regier explained that he didn’t own many toys growing up and rarely were those toys new. On one occasion when he brought home a good report card, he was allowed to buy a 1967 Rolls Royce Matchbox car. The bright yellow and blue box against the shiny cherry red car struck young Regier as something to be treasured. As a child Regier was influenced by 1960s and ’70s American pop culture as well as comic artists such as Bruce McCall and B. Kliban, who also used bright color palettes and witticism to provide social commentary.

Since new toys were a luxury, young Regier often built most of the toys he wanted to play with himself. The toys he made as a child helped him to imagine his future and articulate his observations about the landscape around him. As an adult, Regier uses the colors, designs, and aesthetic he grew up with to create his current body of work. Regier paraphrases Albert Camus when he describes his sculptures as his excuse to rediscover the things that have excited him throughout his entire life.

Look for Randy Regier’s artwork in State of the Art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art until January 19, 2015.

Toy or Miniature?

ToolChests

So, what is the difference between a toy and a fine-scale miniature? This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions we hear at the museum. Let’s take a quick look at a few pieces from the collection to illustrate the answer!

William Robertson’s miniature Hewitt “gentleman’s” chest and the American Manufacturing Concern’s (AMC) Elite Tool Chest for Boys are similar tool chests featuring dovetail joints. The most apparent difference is probably their size; the Elite Tool Chest measures a child-size 17 5/8” long, while Robertson’s 1-inch scale miniature measures a just a wee 2” long. Both chests are “real” tool chests in that they feature a full set of functioning tools which could be used to complete any number of carpentry projects. In fact, Robertson’s miniature includes all the same tools as the full-size Hewitt chest currently located at Colonial Williamsburg—the saw even has 160 teeth to the inch!

It probably goes without saying that these two tool chests are meant for two very different audiences. AMC mass produced the Elite Tool Chest to offer children— well, apparently only boys— size-appropriate tools for practicing their carpentry skills. Robertson’s Hewitt chest was created with no intention to actually use the tools, but rather to understand and study the skills traditional craftsmen used to handcraft everyday objects. You could probably say that both pieces were created to educate, but as very different teaching tools—pun intended!

Look, She’s Walking!

Autoperipetekos

We’re guessing no Victorian child (or adult for that matter) probably called this doll by her proper name: Autoperipatetikos. This mouthful of a name is actually Greek for “self-walker” or “walking about by itself.” And walk she does! Ok, well maybe it’s more like a jerky scooting motion

Patented in 1862 by Enoch Rice Morrison, this china head doll is among the first walking dolls in American history. Previous examples of walking dolls existed, but they usually had to be supported by a string, wooden baby walker, or were guided. Mr. Morrison was able to solve this issue of balance by giving his doll larger feet with a wide stance, a stiff cone under her dress, and arms made of kid leather to reduce shifting weight. Her pink dress also hides the key-wound clockwork mechanism that allows her feet to move. Like most mechanical toys, the amazing and beautiful Autoperipatetikos is not without some faults, as her original box reads: “If it should stop at any time, turn the feet toward you and see if the inside leg is not caught up against the feet.” Oh dear.

Confiscated Toys Liberated Again

Confiscated Toys

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

Hay is for Horses

GottschalkStable

The Moritz Gottschalk company produced a lot more than dollhouses; it could be said that they produced every kind of toy structure imaginable, from warehouses, forts, theaters and shops to stables, rooms, and kitchens. Surprisingly, none of the structures are marked with the company’s name. But many clues helped T/m easily identify this Gottschalk stable: a red or blue roof, lithographed paper details, and the creative use and replication of architectural forms in the toy structure.

Just as race tracks and garages filled with four-wheeled vehicles occupy hours of play today, the Red Roof Stable Model No. 4541 was a favorite of boys and girls. Models ranged in size and accessories brought to life all sorts of imaginative play with farm animals and hay carts to haul bailed hay or horses to pull carriages on cobblestone roads. We think it is really neat to see the similarities between this stable and the stables that children can play with today!

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