Small Talk Tag: Toy

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.

It’s National Puzzle Day!

national puzzle day

Most of us (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) can start to feel a bit stir-crazy around this time of year. Luckily today, January 29, is National Puzzle Day! Ok, maybe puzzles won’t completely cure the winter blues, but it’s worth a shot! Whether you prefer crossword, logic, jigsaw, linguistic or mathematical puzzles is up to you.

John Spilsbury invented the first jigsaw puzzle (pictured above) in 1766. Originally meant as a teaching tool for geography classes, the jigsaw puzzle caught on. And for good reason too—puzzles teach important motor and problem solving skills, and aid in creative and abstract thinking. By the 19th century, chromolithography made it easy to create an array of colorful designs that were applied or printed directly onto puzzle boards, blocks and boxes. Even in the video game era, puzzles of all kinds continue to delight us. Perhaps the thrill of completion is what keeps this pastime so popular.

Photo: © The British Library Board, Maps 188.v.12

Gilbert’s Great Girders

Erector Set's 100th anniversary

The history of the Erector Set’s creator is just as interesting as the popularity of the toy itself. During his studies at Yale, A. C. Gilbert was an accomplished athlete and even won a gold medal for pole-vaulting in the 1908 Olympic Summer Games in London. When he wasn’t dominating a sport, Gilbert honed his skills as a successful magician.

We aren’t sure exactly when he found the time to sleep! Surrounded by the marvels of 20th century industrial architecture trends, Gilbert managed to find enough free time to create the first Erector Set in 1913. With it, he managed to bring the realism of these new technologies to the hands of American children. His hope was that the set would inspire the progression of these novel ideas for generations to come. A 2013 exhibit at The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop called The Erector Set at 100 traced the century-long legacy of Gilbert’s famous toy and connects it to the modern maker movement’s focus on technology and DIY.

Photo: The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop

Chop Shop

toy butcher shop

Victorian life was not for the faint of heart. While we may be used to ground beef or pork chops neatly packaged in Styrofoam and shrink wrap, that wasn’t always the case. Most Victorians were used to perusing dangling meat in storefront windows at their local butcher shop, just like this toy version from our collection. Although it may seem grisly as a toy, this child-sized charcuterie was meant to teach kids the grown-up skills of grocery shopping and business. What’s more, actual shops of the time period embraced their utility too, often using them as unique advertisements in store windows.

While a similar example exists in our collection, the toy butcher shop shown here is from the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood. Created in 1900 by the Christian Hacker Toy Company, this shop includes a friendly figurine that invites children and visitors alike to come closer and take in all of its details. Small wooden replicas of raw meat hang in the archways, and although the furniture inside appears oversized, it is all original to the piece.

Photo: Butcher Shop, c. 1900, Christian Hacker, Germany. Courtesy of the V&A Museum of Childhood.

I Had One of Those!

minnesota history center toys

If you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer (or even if you’re not), chances are you remember making a Slinky crawl down the stairs, baking a tiny cake with a light bulb, or putting Mr. Potato Head’s ear where his mouth normally appears. Childhood experiences like these are all brought back to life in a special exhibit at The Minnesota History Center called Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

After World War II, the mid-century decades saw cultural advances that affected the way Americans work, live, and play. Everything from the rise of car culture, to the space race, to Saturday morning cartoons found their way onto the living room floor in the form of toys and imaginative play. Although the exhibit ends on January 4, curators have created a special companion book outlining all of the exhibit’s toy treasures.

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

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