Small Talk Tag: Toy

Hello Forty!

hello kitty 40th anniversary exhibition

Since her inception in 1974, Hello Kitty’s cute yellow nose and large red bow has been placed on just about every kind of product imaginable—she’s even been on cans of motor oil! By 2014, Hello Kitty was worth an incredible 7 billion dollars! A special exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum celebrates 40 years of Hello Kitty’s worldwide influence with original artwork, fashion, and other rather unusual Hello Kitty swag.

Yuko Shimizu, Hello Kitty’s creator, drew inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass focusing on Alice’s pet named “Kitty.” Some mystery surrounds Hello Kitty’s design and personality, like the fact that she was designed without a mouth and given little facial expression. Company spokespeople, however, say her lack of a mouth indicates universality, that the character speaks many languages, and that it means Hello Kitty desires worldwide friendship. With Hello Kitty merchandise available in over 60 countries, the emotionally aloof feline has certainly achieved her goal!

Photo: Hello Kitty, Japanese American National Museum.

Toys Go Pop

andy warhol toy series

We all know of Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup cans, but few pop art fans know of his series of artworks based on his own toy collection. In 2014, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art hosted Andy Warhol: Toy Paintings for the Whole Family, an exhibition curated by The Andy Warhol Museum. The exhibit consisted of 86 Warhol works, including silkscreens and drawings with colorful images of playful puppies, swinging monkeys, drum-playing pandas, and whimsical depictions of transportation.

As an artist exploring the concepts of branding and consumerism, some images in Warhol’s toy series actually depict the packaging of these toys, similar to his Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo boxes. The mechanical puppy, for example, includes the warning “Not recommended for children under three years of age.” Blurring the lines between high art and everyday playthings, these toy images have more than earned their “15 minutes of fame.”

Photo: Kellermann, Germany 1938, 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.

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

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