I have to admit that there’s a little kid in me that can come out at the most inopportune moments. To limit the silliness from becoming too rampant, I find it best to shower my inner child with periodic visits to kid-friendly attractions. Kansas City just happens to be home to quite a few of these, so that works out best for keeping me in check. One of our favorites is the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, which is located at 5235 Oak Street. It is a special place that we recommend to people every chance we get. I may enter this KC landmark as an adult, but once across the threshold, I will be releasing my inner child.
So Much To See
Even before we begin our exploring, we can already see that there is a lot to explore. Just reading the statistics listed at the entrance is mind-blowing. To think of all the hours required to create these amazing pieces is a reminder of the skill required in this art form. The cover photo for this article is a good example of the incredible detail required to form a believable reproduction. Titled Architect’s Classroom Circa 1900, it is overwhelming trying to take in all of the details. Yet, without all of them, the presentation would be incomplete. This is one of my favorite pieces in the museum.
Getting a Closer Look
To make it easier for visitors to examine the pieces, the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures has magnifying glasses for the public to use. I always feel a little like Sherlock Holmes whenever I am in this part of the museum. Moving from one display case to the next, I find myself filled with wonder. Reading the literature, we learned that most pieces are created on a 1:12 scale. The pieces on display include a collection of original designs, as well as reproductions of items made in real size by master artists.
What really blows my mind are the pieces that draw you farther and farther into the details. This Art Deco Jewelry Store is a prime example of this experience. It’s a recreation of a fine jewelry store that would have been found in metropolitan areas in the 1920s. At first glance, I see the large chandelier that hangs above the display case. Made with 15,800 beads, it is a masterpiece all by itself. As my eyes work down the paneled Rosewood walls, my focus shifts to the couple shopping for that special piece. This beckons me farther into the piece and I find myself examining the intricate pieces inside the jewelry case. The fine points of this handiwork are astonishing.
By now, my senses have become keen and I look for the unusual details. You would think that just taking in the overall unthinkable works would be enough. I am now searching for the minutiae that makes up those “aha” moments. A prime example of this would be the artist’s attention to individual layers of the treats on the table. They even went so far as to give the candles the appearance of being used. I can imagine myself sitting down to afternoon tea at this table, although as a child I would have been prohibited from using this room without adult supervision.
How Do They Do It?
A section of the museum that is always intriguing is In The Artist’s Studio. Here we discover the steps required to create these miniature masterpieces. There are some fun hands-on exhibits that let visitors see just how steady your hand needs to be to complete the intricate work. Crystal and I each took turns placing our hands on a clock and let me tell you it isn’t easy. Along the wall, we found displays that showcase exploded views of miniature furniture pieces. Having seen full-size furniture unassembled, it is amazing how these tiny versions follow the same guidelines.
Learning From the Masters
We also enjoy seeing the short videos that detail some of the crafts required to create the miniatures. I’ll be the first to admit that I am no budding artist, so imagining the difficulty to create these minute versions of classics is impressive. This goes far beyond just having a steady hand, one must also have a keen eye for detail. As we wrapped up our exploring on the first floor of the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, we prepared to head upstairs to check out the toys. Time to put away the magnifying glass and release more of my inner child.
Eyes on the Prize
I would imagine toys have been around, in one form or another, almost since the beginning of time. Even I remember occurrences of playing with rocks, which I used to create towns in a dirt patch. The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures walks visitors through some of the histories of the tools that children of all ages use to unlock their imaginations. We began our journey by climbing the staircase, which encircles a rotating display of toys from all time periods. Once upstairs, we began investigating some of the stereoscopic devices that opened a hidden world to the viewer. While these may have been before our time, we can see the amusement that receiving such a piece would bring to a child.
While my history with dollhouses is sparse, I still enjoy seeing the amazing details that are brought to the pieces. As we made our way through their extensive collection, I found that this display really captured my attention. I never realized all of the backgrounds that applied to the creation of the various dolls. It makes sense that the styles of these miniature figurines would mimic the social situations of the times.
Heading Back in Time
For me, toys were an avenue that led to other worlds. Some would find me leading the charge as we storm the beach of some foreign battle. Others would find us hacking our way through a dense jungle, as we became the first explorers to explore unchartered lands. The one constant in all of our playtimes was the use of our imaginations. Armed with this invaluable tool, we could be anything we dreamed of and end up whisked away to places that only existed in our minds.
We all had certain toys that evoke fond memories. As we watched a video about this man’s experiences with a paratrooper toy, I was reminded of some of my favorites. An old cap gun was my trusty weapon, as I sought out adventure throughout my childhood neighborhood. When our caps ran out, a verbal “Bang, Bang” was enough to signify an accurate shot. As I grew older, my toys adapted into ones that required more physical dexterity. Hours of flinging frisbees would be rewarded with the occasional scramble to retrieve them from an unexpected destination.
When you are a kid, you don’t often wonder about the origin of your toys. There may be the occasion when a toy breaks, and you find yourself disassembling it to check out the details. At the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, you can learn the background of some familiar and common playthings. As a youth, I would have likely bypassed this exhibit, but adulthood has taught me an appreciation for the history of products.
Were We Learning?
Passing through the various galleries, an unexpected realization came to me. All of those hours spent playing may have been the base for learning about how to handle life’s situations. I think back to the summer days when soon after breakfast we stepped out of the house for the day. Often, our only returns would be for lunch and dinner. The balance of time was spent using our imaginations to create new worlds to explore. Each scenario would present problems to be solved, but we only saw them as challenges to be conquered. These aid in developing our problem-solving skills for later in life. Oh my gosh, playtime was really learning time.
Kansas City Connection
We continued to explore the galleries and displays. There are a few sections that exhibit a collection of toys from yesteryear. Seeing this assortment of airplanes, I immediately noticed the hometown connection with Trans World Airlines. This Kansas City-based company was well known to most families in this area, especially during my youth, in the late 1960s. Being a pilot was another popular dream job for kids, back in those days. Most flights would include some daring-do, or at the least, narrowly averted the danger.
National Museum of Toys and Miniatures
By the time we wrapped up our visit to the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, my inner child had been fully released. All of those familiar memories were flooding through my brain. I was ready to run to the store and buy a kite, just to see how high I could get it to fly. There are so many stories associated with my childhood toys, that they should really be looked back on as tools of the trade. Even a field of rocks held the possibility of hours of immersive fun. What were some of your favorite toys?