Small Talk Tag: Toy

A Doll Abode with a Simple Commode

New Rochelle Mystery House Bathroom

We often like to ask our guests on a tour if they notice anything unusual about the New Rochelle Mystery Dollhouse. At first glance, the house appears similar to our many other stately Victorian dollhouses: there’s a parlor, a grand staircase and every room is furnished with tiny doll décor. What the untrained eye may not have noticed is that this dollhouse contains something many real-life houses from the time period didn’t often have: a bathroom!

If you look closely at the room in the upper right of the house, you’ll find a bead boarded alcove with a built-in bench with a hole in it … ok, this toilet looks more like an indoor outhouse than the porcelain thrones we’re used to today. The toilet’s tank is the box located high above with a long pull chain to flush. The bathtub and sink located to the right is also paneled around the sides, making them permanent fixtures in the room. While we don’t know exactly who manufactured the New Rochelle Mystery House, we can tell that it dates to the 1880s, which was the same time period Prince Edward VII of England commissioned a plumber, and sanitary pioneer, named Thomas Crapper to install lavatories in several royal palaces. Yes, that’s right, the first Mr. Crapper and perhaps the origin of the use of the word… that’s quite a claim to fame! All toilet jokes aside, this doll bathroom is certainly a special feature!

Making A Doll That Looks Just Like You

Miss Mary

It is believed that from 1845 to 1886 Izannah Walker—and her team of three sisters—produced close to 3,000 dolls. Although Walker’s career happened concurrently with the Industrial Revolution, each of the dolls was hand-painted to have a distinct look and face rather than the ceramic or bisque dolls that were currently being mass-produced. In a male-dominated doll making industry, Walker became the first American woman to receive a doll making patent with her process for making a soft cloth doll that did not break when dropped. Here’s how she pulled it all off:

First, the doll’s head and shoulders were formed by applying glue to layers of inexpensive cloth and batting. The fabric was then pressed into a mold to harden. A rod would be inserted into the center of the form to provide strength from the head to torso. Ears were formed out of fabric tubes attached to the head. After applying another layer of paste and waiting for the doll to dry, Walker would paint the doll’s head. Next, the doll’s torso and limbs were sewn and stuffed. Walker preferred to sew joints at the doll’s elbows and knees—she even attached thumbs and sewed fingers! She would then paint the limbs with the same color used on the head. All that was left was to attach a second covering to the doll’s body in order to conceal the elbow and knee joints and provide a neatly finished doll, each as unique as the child that owned her.

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.

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