Small Talk / Museum

Christmas Traditions at T/m

“Christmas was on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolved.” – Ralphie Parker, A Christmas Story, 1983

That lovely, glorious, beautiful time is upon us once again, and at T/m, our year definitely revolves around it. Our cases are full of memories from Christmases past, and our halls echo with the nostalgic exclamations of children and children-at-heart, both for the toys they had and the toys they longed for.

Our official holiday season begins just before Thanksgiving when we put up our big Christmas tree in the museum’s lobby. Over twelve feet tall, the tree is topped with a stovepipe hat, a nod to Frosty the Snowman. It is decorated with glass ornaments, including several Santas donated by long-time volunteer and miniaturist Bud Koupal. When the tree is ready, Bud hangs the finishing touch, a glass gingerbread house he and his late wife Jan purchased together at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art many years ago.

The Tureman Education Center is decorated with a tree, garlands, and twinkling lights in preparation for our holiday workshop the day after Thanksgiving. For those who are looking forward to some family time on Black Friday, we hope you will join us this year in making your own miniature Christmas tree complete with ornaments and a tree skirt.

Our Playing for Keeps exhibit will also have its own silver tinsel tree to complement the mid-century theme of the exhibit. Collections Manager Calleen Carver has already posed for her holiday photo next to our MAJOR AWARD (leg lamp).

Some of the halls we deck are very tiny. Twin Manors, the 1:12 scale Georgian mansion created by artist William R. Robertson, has its own set of miniature decorations. You won’t find a Christmas tree in this house because the custom was not popular in colonial America. Instead, it is adorned with petite boughs of evergreen and a holly ball that hangs in the center hall. The kitchen table is heavy with holiday treats that are waiting to be served in the dining room.

Coleman House, the museum’s largest dollhouse, also has its own Yuletide decorations. The nine-foot-tall dollhouse was built for the children of a Pennsylvania iron baron in the 1860s. A twenty-three-inch Christmas tree festooned with Victorian scrap paper ornaments stands in the dining room, and a delicate garland is laced through the balustrade of the center stair case. On December 1st, we will host the world’s smallest “open house”—the doors of the dollhouse will be unlocked and educator Katherine Mercier will give “tours” all day!

Just a few feet away from Coleman House, Miss Mary will make her annual appearance in The Doll Gallery. This rare and important doll was made by artist Izannah Walker as a gift for Mary Estelle Newell in 1861. Miss Mary presides over the season from Thanksgiving to Epiphany (January 6th), and then she settles in for a long winter’s rest (to preserve her for future generations).

Amy McKune, the curator of collections, has assembled some additional holiday-themed miniatures to delight our visitors. This includes a sterling silver menorah measuring just 2 5/8 inches high by William Meyers, needlepoint stockings in 1:12 scale by Martha Farnsworth, and a miniature of a miniature Christmas tree with trimmings by Nell Corkin. These will be on view until Epiphany as well.

Father Christmas will make his annual appearance at T/m on Sunday, December 16 from 1-2:30 pm. Jim “Two Crows” Wallen, story teller extraordinaire, will be telling folk tales from all over the world. We’ll be serving cookies and cocoa, and Father Christmas will be available for sweet photos.

The best thing about this time of year at T/m is, by far, the visitors who have made us part of their holiday tradition over the years. We treasure the stories you share, and we love that our programs and exhibits have been woven into the fabric of your family memories. We hope that over the next few weeks you will find time to join us once again!

Laura Taylor
Curator of Interpretation



Factories in the Business of Play

tin toys

At The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, the Toys, Inc. story continues into the 19th century as toy making graduated from homes to factories and machines replaced manual labor. With low profit margins and a time-consuming process, the cottage industry had difficulty bringing home any bacon. On the other hand, factories were able to boost production with steam-powered engines and mechanized processes that churned out large quantities of toys.

To maintain their dominance in the market, Germany turned to tin toys (or maybe it was because they had depleted the country’s wood supply?). Tin was cheap to produce, lightweight to ship, and could be easily decorated. A win, win, win! Wanting a piece of the pie, America entered the toy production game with a readily available material from the country’s prolific railroad construction: cast iron. By utilizing an easily obtainable material, the U.S. could produce toys that were less expensive than German imports. Can you say cha-ching?!

Cottage Industries in the Business of Play

Cottage Industries

Toys aren’t all fun and games, they’re also a thriving 84-billion-dollar global industry! Surprisingly though, the industry is only 200 years old. Yet, it’s come a long way from small shops to enormous corporations of the likes of Hasbro and Mattel. But, let’s go back to the beginning with T/m’s permanent exhibition Toys, Inc. The Making of an Industry.

Once upon a time, in the 18th century forested regions of Germany, farming and mining families made wooden toys to supplement their incomes. These carved peg dolls and Noah’s Arks were the beginning of the modern toy industry. Early wooden toy makers often utilized their entire family in turning, carving, and painting processes. This household production of goods was coined a “cottage industry” because toy makers were quite literally being industrious in their cottages!

Building a Fine-Scale Collection

fine-scale miniature

What started as a souvenir in the 1950s, became a serious collection by the 1970s, a museum by 1982, and is today the world’s largest and finest collection. Museum co-founder Barbara Marshall combined her love for small things with an eye for detail refined throughout her professional career in Hallmark’s art department and volunteer service at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The combination resulted in a patron that desired only the highest quality work from artists that could meet her standards.

Marshall encouraged artists to create their dream fine-scale works, allowing many artists to explore the boundaries of the art form. The outcomes can be seen throughout T/m’s miniature galleries, including Emperor Charles V of Spain and Queen Isabella of Portugal.

Inspiring a Fine-Scale Collection

fine-scale miniature

On Small Talk, we’ve already looked at three miniature commissions in the early 20th century that helped spark the fine-scale miniature movement: Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, and the Thorne Rooms. All three commissions employed full-scale craftsmen to create miniature versions of their work for public exhibition. But how did the museum’s collection come to be?

Museum founder Barbara Marshall loved small things. Contrary to most children, she always looked forward to getting the “smallest” present. In the 1950s, she discovered the shop of Eric Pearson, one of the craftsman hired to furnish the Thorne Rooms. A 1:12 scale Pearson rocking chair began her collection that is now the largest in the world. Stay tuned for more about Marshall and the gigantic, miniature collection she built.

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