This exhibit features, toys, dolls, and other kinds of material culture of childhood from the Lyman Allyn’s permanent collection. The core collection grew out of a substantial gift in the 1960s from toy collector Lydia Baratz, who had assembled an impressive collection over a period of forty years. Many pieces in the Baratz Collection and in subsequent donations are European or American dolls and toys from the 19th and early 20th century. Although the collection has a Western focus, ideas about play and cultural definitions of childhood hold true around the world and throughout history. A number of objects in the exhibition show how adults culture has been transmitted to children through toys and other childhood items in a range of cultures and regions.
Play is universal. Kids play. Adults play. Cats, dogs, dolphins, birds and many other animals play, too. Why does play matter and how does it shape us, especially as children? Through play, children experiment with the world and begin to understand their place in it. Play helps children develop social skills, motor skills, and cognitive abilities like independent thinking and language. Play even helps children learn resilience, persistence and how to regulate their emotions. Play, whether with toys, games or one’s imagination, is universal, but the way children play and what they play with is defined by the culture they grow up in and the adults around them. Focused on our youngest visitors, ages 3-10, Playthings of the Past includes hands-on play with toys, books, games and dolls from many cultures and many eras of history. Children are encouraged to use their imaginations to touch, learn and create scenes and activities. We hope it will open new worlds for these young visitors, as they learn about community, history, diversity and the visual arts.
Built for the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in 1962 by Harold E. Hawthorne, former president of Hawthorne Woodworking in Oakdale, the American Victorian Dollhouse was designed to house dolls and doll furniture donated by Lydia Baratz. The exterior of the dollhouse was designed to reflect the Victorian tastes of its doll inhabitants, with a shingle mansard roof, dormer windows, and a widow’s walk encircling two chimneys. While the house is decorated in the style of 1850, the furnishings span the Victorian era into the early 20th century. The three floors of the home’s interior include bedrooms, a dining room, a nursery, a sewing room, and two kitchens, showcasing the many wonderful miniatures of the Baratz Collection.