By pairing toys with book illustrations, advertisements, period photographs and other images of children at play, the exhibition will present toys as the props used by youngsters in performances of childhood as stage-managed by adults. It is the adults, however, whose concerns ultimately informed the design, manufacture, marketing, distribution and purchase of toys.
Play/Things: Toys and the Invention of Modern Childhood will present toys, dolls and other objects which are rarely seen. One exceptional work that will be on view is a dollhouse built in 1916 for Neva Palmer, the daughter of New London textile manufacturer George S. Palmer. The dollhouse was modeled on Palmer’s Georgian Revival house, designed by Charles Platt, architect of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. One gallery will feature a remarkable range of 20th century wind-up toys—everything from a Ferris wheel to a motorcycle, from Roy Rogers riding Trigger to a clown walking on his hands. Adults interested in political history will be amused by the Tammany Bank. Patented in 1873, it features a seated figure—most likely Boss Tweed—who deposits each coin in his jacket pocket.
The exhibition is co-curated by Abigail A. Van Slyck and Robert Skingle. Van Slyck is the Dayton Professor of Art History and Director of the Architectural Studies Program and Chair of the Art History Department at Connecticut College. Antique toy expert Robert Skingle graduated from Goldsmiths College at the University of London. He turned a hobby of collecting lead military figures into a career and became an antique toy dealer, specializing in toys from the turn of the century.
Play/Things: Toys and the Invention of Modern Childhood will include a full schedule of coordinating programs including a gallery talk by the curator; children’s workshops on topics such as doll-making, kite-making and flying; a special “Meet the Astronaut” Day; a children’s 19th c. style tea party; a Saturday Afternoon Film program geared to children and a gallery tour with an antique collector and dealer.