Toys of Yesteryear from the World Over
Like our childhood, toys are ephemeral, but not those in this exhibit. Those that miraculously survived attest to their overwhelming appeal that captivates children around the world, inviting them to activate them and even create new ones. In this day and age a complete revival of the traditional art of toy production is no longer possible, however the first step required for reviving these diverse and inspirational toys is a follow-up and documentation of the tradition.
The current exhibition presents a collection of mobile toys powered by mechanisms or the laws of kinetics, thus creating that magical illusion of life. Even if some regard them as a weak link to the grandeur of contemporary automatic toys, their singularity is that they originate in workshops, art studios, the homes of amateurs and collectors of miniatures. The joyous simplicity, vivid imagination, inventive ability, freedom of thought, and humor which characterize local toy traditions, captivated the hearts of numerous generations of children. The archeological museum in Cairo teaches us that their creators were at work as early as the age of the Pharaohs. These craftsmen encountered difficulties only at the end of the 19th century, when they were
compelled to cope with the inundation of industrial toys.
The toys in this exhibition, beginning in the 18th and 19th centuries and reaching our times, were collected by ethnologist Christine Armango from all over the world - Europe, North America, Mexico, Japan, India, China, Russia and South Africa. They are exhibited in groups according to subjects and operating mechanisms, and show the different stages of ideas. Positioning them one next to the other provides information as to their development over the years; one cannot but be surprised at the similarity between countries and continents.
Contrary to what many of today's children believe, toys do not need batteries nor an internal motor in order to move on their own. There are other devices, small and cunning, that are capable of creating the illusion of life. For a toy to move on a tilted board one may use a basic law of physics which is taught in all schools today - the law of gravity, according to which the center of gravity of every body in a state of instability will aspire to reach the lowest point. Movement creates dynamics that pulls the toy.
Most of the craftsmen who made these toys did not study at school, but created their toys after numerous experiments, never forgetting the local tradition from which they learned how to make use of the "invisible motor" in order to captivate children.
On the other hand, a generation of engineers in the 19th century used the inventions of "scientific toys" and distributed books on "entertaining science" designed for "intelligent children." Many of these toys still arouse curiosity and enthusiasm among students of physics today.
Children from affluent countries have long moved over to a different kind of toy, but children of the slums of Delhi or Rio de Janeiro still rummage in the piles of rubbish in order to find something which they can make into a game, such as "pecking chickens," "balanced acrobats," or a tumbler toy.
Curator: Christine Armangaud
Opens: July 1
Closes: 31 December 2008