Small Talk Tag: Toy

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.

Imagination Takes Flight

mechanical flying toys

From the ancient Greek myth of Icarus, to Leonardo Da Vinci’s fantastical flying machines, mankind has held the desire to fly for centuries. Up until the Wright Brothers finally got it right in 1903, “gentlemen scientists,” inventors and early aviators scrambled to unlock the secrets of powered and controlled air travel. During the era of the steam-powered engine, the idea of a flying machine really, well, took flight.

Toys of course mirror the times in which they were produced. Naturally, as the world became fascinated with flying, tin flying machine toys featuring propellers, wings, parachutes and hot air balloons became a common sight in the 19th and early 20th century. This particular clockwork wind-up mechanical flying machine toy was likely attached to a cantilevered weight on a central base. When the mechanism was wound, the pilot’s legs pedaled the propeller, causing the toy to “fly” in a circle. While this imaginative depiction of early flight makes for a charming toy, we’d still prefer a comfortable window seat and complimentary peanuts.

A Doll Abode with a Simple Commode

victorian dollhouse 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

izannah walker doll

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 art

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.

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