Thursday, March 24, 2016

National Museum of Toys


A collection of Victorian-era figures, including one of Queen Victoria of England, are on display at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.

In last week’s column, we discussed the amazing miniatures at the recently renovated National Museum of Toys and Miniatures on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. This week, we would like to share with you our visit to the museum’s collection of more than 46,000 toys — one of the largest collections in the United States.

Mary Harris Francis, who in 1982 co-founded the museum and provided the original toy collection, was attracted to toys that had been handmade and cherished. More than 2,000 people approached her with their own childhood toys, which allowed her to assemble the largest toy collection in the Midwest.

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So, in a sense, this part of the museum became a community project.

We were able to explore not only memories of our childhood toys but also those of long-past and recent generations: dolls, stuffed animals, trains, pedal cars, airplanes, games, soldiers and more. Individual stories were attached in many displays. Even poor kids like Wayne managed to get some toys that added to the joys of his childhood.

The Buck Rogers pistol brought Wayne memories of playing interplanetary war games long before the arrival of “Star Wars” films or “Star Trek” TV shows.

The carpenter tool kit reminded him of the best Christmas present he ever got as a child: a tool kit — similar to an adult’s tool kit — with a real saw, hammer, level, planer and other working tools with which he could make real objects.

Carla, moved by the Raggedy Ann doll display, discovered that the Raggedy Ann stories were based on a rag doll belonging to Marcella Gruelle. Her father wrote and illustrated books based on stories he had told her when she was ill — sadly, she died at the age of 13.

The videos and written commentary throughout the museum stressed how toys give children the opportunity to learn adult skills and behavior.

Jimmy Stewart, narrating a film about pedal cars, explained how schools were using the cars to teach children how to obey motorist and pedestrian traffic rules.

The film was made at a time when you stuck your arm out the window to give the driver behind you a clue as to where you were going to turn.

He suggested that as children learned the rules, the parents tended to pay even more attention to the rules.

Other displays illustrated how dolls and doll houses allowed girls to try out the roles and responsibilities they eventually would assume as adults.

Modern toys, however, suggest many other possibilities to girls, and they now can explore scientific occupations and a broad range of other opportunities that are open to them.

The doll houses covered a range of years and cultures.

Looking at the older Victorian home, we could see the servants, the fancy dress of the home owners and the military uniforms of the visitors along with the overstuffed furniture and lack of modern appliances.

Comfort dolls such as Teddy bears are on display alongside Barbie and G.I. Joe.

The cast of “Star Wars” has its own display case, as does Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting expedition in Africa.

In 1971, the microchip revolutionized the toy industry by introducing toys that could walk and talk.

Science kits allowed children to solve complicated problems and learn new skills while having fun. Nowadays, iPads and iPhones allow kids to play a wide variety of games.

When we visit our 14-year-old granddaughters, we often notice they are playing games on their iPads in bed before breakfast.

Raggedy Ann and Andy

A range of doll houses

National Museum of Miniatures


A series of intricately detailed miniatures, such as this scene depicting a couple at a jewelry showroom, is on display at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in a magnificent 38-room mansion on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.

In 1982, the original museum combined the toy collection of Mary Harris Francis with the miniatures collection of Barbara Hall Marshall. A capital campaign beginning in 2012 resulted in an $11 million renovation, and the museum reopened last August.

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The collection now includes more than 72,000 items, making it one of the largest toy collections in the United States and one of the most extensive miniature collections in the world.

In an introductory film to the museum’s miniature section, Marshall discusses her collection and the joy it gave her to share it with others.

When we entered the floor of miniatures, we were greeted by a chair and desk. Next to it was a stand, which held an identical chair and desk 1/12 the size of the original. This prepared us for what we were about to see — carefully created objects and scenes that were perfect copies of the original.

The exhibits brought many smiles and occasionally a sense of awe, such as when we looked through microscopes and saw a panda painted on a grain of rice or saw a figure sculpted from a toothpick. How in the world did they do that?

We gained some insight into the work by watching several films with artists demonstrating how they created miniature objects. Taking a real ceramic plate, one artist created a miniature version in a process that included not only copying the intricate design but firing it for hours in a kiln. She also demonstrated how she made a reproduction of a master painting the size of a postage stamp using egg tempera paint.

Some of the scenic objects include Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin, a Boston Beacon Hill mansion, an art deco jewelry store with a rich-looking man, a beautiful woman and a very formal-looking sales clerk. If we had been looking at realistic paintings of the scenes, we would have been impressed, but it was even more impressive that we were looking at the scene created with intricately crafted objects in miniature.

It even struck us that we could be doing a little world-traveling as we walked through the rooms: a bedroom from a mansion in Tudor England, an Italian Renaissance studio and Louis XV’s study at the palace at Versailles were among the scenes on display.

But, of course, equally impressive were a miniature set of dueling pistols and, nearby, a violin shop recreated in the inside of a violin. We also saw works of art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on a scale of 1 inch equal to 12 inches.

We suspect some of the children visiting saw the exhibit as merely a collection of dollhouses without appreciating the meticulous detail work that was needed to create the objects and the rooms. They seemed much more interested in the toys on the second floor, an exhibition that we will discuss next week.

A violin shop within a violin

Accurate details are impressive


Kansas State History Museum

Kansas State History Museum

How do you make an impressive state history museum? In 1980, Kansas started by choosing Kansas architect Robert Schaefer to design an impressive 30,000-square-foot building in Topeka.

Thousands of artifacts were added to tell the history of Kansas from the days of the American Indians to today. It was an adventure to walk through the many rooms in the presence of wax figures of iconic Kansan figures and related objects and stories.

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We were greeted at the first exhibit, “From the Farm to the Dinner Table,” by the figure of President Dwight Eisenhower dressed in a chef’s outfit. This temporary exhibit explores the government’s effect on what Americans eat with some emphasis on posters from World War II encouraging Americans to conserve food and cut back on meat so there would be more available to keep our troops fit.

We rounded a corner and were startled by the figure of a large Indian standing in front of us. This was a chief of the Kiowa, known as the “Orator of the Plains.” We also saw a Cheyenne teepee and a grass lodge — like those built by the Wichita — surrounded by pumpkins, corn, gourds and other plants grown in this locale by American Indians. The Osage and Kansa also were among the many tribes who lived in the area at various times.

Cheyenne grass lodge surrounded by Native American foods

As we examined a covered wagon loaded with supplies and a prairie diorama, we learned about the lives of the pioneers who crossed the area on their way to Oregon or California. One quote gives some indication of what the travelers faced: “Were it not for the sick and dying that everywhere meets the eye, and the vast number of graves along the road, the journey would be a pleasant one.”

Kansas prides itself on being the nation’s breadbasket because of how of much of the land is given over to farming.

The objects that show the history of farming were well chosen: a furnished log house rescued from the banks of the Saline River, a stagecoach used by the Southwestern Stage Co., a sodbuster plow and small but evidently effective “Queen” windmill.

The farmers found the land was better for wheat than corn and other crops, and the state has become our country’s major wheat-growing state.

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway was founded in 1860. It carried passengers, often immigrants, into the state, along with manufactured goods, and it carried Kansas farm products out to the rest of the world.

Having a railroad could make or break a town. In keeping with the importance of the railroad to the state, the museum has a steam engine from the company and two passenger cars on rails inside the museum.

We were surprised to find that Wichita — with its prominent airplane manufacturing companies — in 1929 had been dubbed the “Air Capital of the World” by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce. Kansans turned out 24,000 airplanes in World War II.

To highlight Kansas’ aircraft history, a very realistic-looking Amelia Earhart stands in front of a biplane built in 1914.

Iconic objects surround wax figures such as newspaper writer William Allen White, temperance crusader Carrie Nation and artist John Steuart Curry.

Other exhibits focus on topics such as the Civil War, blacks in Kansas and modern developments.

Printed guides are available at the entrance to help young visitors get involved in scavenger hunts — a fun way to learn about what they are seeing.

A separate but connected building contains the state archives. Outside the museum is a 2.5-mile walking trail with native plants and wildlife. A one-room school building is used for tours to illustrate what early schools were like.

Chief of the Kiowa, known as the “Orator of the Plains.”

Monday, February 22, 2016



Statues memorialize the black students who integrated the high school in Clinton, Tenn. Many museums around the country feature exhibits that shed light on struggles during the civil rights movement.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education — that school segregation was illegal — opened the door to years of protests against the civil rights movement.

Some progress has been made. Lunch counters are now open, separate water fountains no longer exist and our sports teams and movie screens are alive with black faces.

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But 61 years later, educational and employment opportunities still are biased against blacks. To understand why the battle has been so hard, we need to understand the depth of racist attitudes, and one way to do this is by visiting museums dedicated to recording this fight for equal rights.

At the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Ala., one gallery focused on the angry responses of locals to what they saw as an invasion by outsiders who didn’t understand their way of life. Their responses show they didn’t realize how prejudiced they were.

Examples in displays about the process include comments that “blacks were happy — they sang and had a good time until the northern interlopers came in and riled them up” and “blacks were a primitive people who were not fully ready to be integrated.” Particularly nerve-wracking to us were the clips of Southern governors talking about how states should be left to have their own laws, and that the national government had no right to interfere with their traditions.

In Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, one statue depicts a policeman holding the leash of a dog lunging at a black youth. A little farther on the path were three angry dogs leaping out of the sides of two walls. Even though the animals were sculptures, Wayne got cold chills when he walked between them. On the audio recordings available at the park, a woman who had been a young girl at the time talked about how the teenagers built up their nerve to face the dogs, the high pressure water hoses and the beatings.

In the Little Rock Nine Museum in Little Rock, Ark., we saw how the black students were insulted and threatened, kicked and tripped and shoved in the halls and against lockers.

One of the nine, Elizabeth Eckford, took to carrying her notebook in front of her with pins sticking slightly out, which did, after the first attack, avert further frontal attacks. The books of the nine were stolen and ripped. Pencils and spit balls were thrown at them. Ink was squirted on their clothes. Even white students who might have been sympathetic didn’t dare to do anything to protect them for fear the anger would be turned on them.

The Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala., put us in the presence of a real bus equipped with amazing technology. We could see and hear through the windows the people on the bus — blacks in back, whites in front. The bus stopped and an image of Rosa Parks stepped on, and we watched the situation develop that led to her arrest. The police were called and we saw her being arrested.

Even when a community accepted school integration, problems arose. In Clinton, Tenn., the white students by and large were very cooperative, especially the student leaders and members of the football team. The black students gained prestige when one of them beat the fastest white runner.

That peace did not last. Outside anti-integration activists led by New Jersey white supremacists John Kasper and Asa Cart arrived to foment violent resistance to integration. In one of the rooms, a screen shows a picture of the original high school that dissolves to then show a mess of bricks and plaster — the result of three massive explosions on Oct. 5, 1958. The school was back in operation — and still integrated — in a building near Oak Ridge a week later.

Our visits to civil rights museums have given us a feeling for the depth of the anger at the attempts to legislate for blacks — a depth that even today prevents equal opportunities for all.


Fight for Civil Rights


During Black History Month, we learned about the beginning of school desegregation at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kan.

The site is built around the reconditioned Monroe Primary School, which became the focus of the lawsuit that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision, which concluded that segregated education denied “equal protection of the laws” under the 14th Amendment.

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It was clear that segregation had a negative effect on black children — they were not treated as equal citizens. It also was apparent that “separate but equal” schools were not equal. For example, one county in South Carolina budgeted $43 for each black child in 1951, compared with $179 for each white child.

The court’s decision started not only the campaign to integrate schools throughout the country, but also started the breakdown of segregation at lunchrooms, restrooms, water fountains, hotels, buses and swimming pools.

Our brief tour was almost immediately interrupted by a group of protest-sign wielding third-graders marching and singing “We Shall Overcome.” Later, a young female park ranger, who had just finished a session with her own group of third-graders, explained that third- and seventh-grades in the area surrounding Topeka routinely come here to learn about the civil rights movement.

Because of hostile conditions in the South, many blacks had moved to Kansas, where segregation in elementary schools continued in large cities. Oliver Brown, father of Linda Brown, who was a student in the classroom we visited, became the chief plaintiff in a lawsuit that rolled five cases from around the country into one.

The two lead attorneys were Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall, the architects of the NAACP’s legal strategies. Marshall later would become the nation’s first black justice on the Supreme Court.

The classroom has been rebuilt and furnished the way it had been as a kindergarten classroom in 1951, and information about how classes were run in those days is given. The most informative room for us was the school’s auditorium, which had three large screens. On one, a black instructor held an interactive discussion with a teenager about the history of segregation and the fight for constitutional rights.

Their discussion covered the post-Civil War years, during which laws were developed that relegated blacks to separate facilities — or barred them altogether. Their discussion also took us to the aftermath of the Brown decision. All the while they were discussing these issues, a series of historical scenes on those topics played on the other screens.

Other classrooms have become display areas, with films, pictures and newspaper spreads giving a history of the problems that were encountered in the movement for integration. One of the most compelling displays included moving pictures projected on either side of a long hallway. As we walked, we saw people shouting, protesters being attacked and southern leaders loudly giving their resistant messages — truly frightening.

Backlash to the court’s decision was widespread. In Virginia, some administrators chose to close schools rather than opening them to blacks. By 1964, only about 1 percent of blacks in the South were attending school with whites. Despite the resistance, it was clear to us during the visit that the Supreme Court’s decision in this case forever changed the way Americans viewed equality.

The displays in the final room show that resistance to equality still exists, and that while many blacks have taken advantage of improved opportunities, we continue to have much economic disparity and bigotry.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Dinosaurs of Arizona

Dinosaurs fly high at Arizona Natural History Museum


A Tyrannosaurus bataar, similar to a Tyrannosaurus rex, fossil is on display at the Arizona Museum of Natural History.

 “The Age of the Dinosaurs” is the most publicized exhibition at the Arizona Natural History Museum in Mesa, Ariz. During our visit, we first enjoyed viewing outstanding fossils of the pterosaurs that filled the skies here 71 million years ago. Then, our interest was piqued even further when we saw an accompanying film about how scientists are trying to learn more about how these winged dinosaurs flew by making a realistic model of the animal. The Quetzalcoatlus, the largest flying animal known with a wingspan of 36 feet, soared through the sky as fully lifelike as the best images in a “Jurassic Park” film.

Like those of birds, the Quetzalcoatlus’ bones were hollow to reduce weight. Because of its bone structure and expenditure of energy, the dinosaur must have been warm blooded. Its skin would have been covered with light fur.

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While building the model, scientists explored the way the muscles would have worked the bones and how the brain would have managed the complex moves necessary for flight. The conclusion that surprised us the most was that baby dinosaurs were able to fly as soon as they broke out of the egg. Although the researchers failed to build a flying model that didn’t crash, they learned much, which made our appreciation of the exhibition soar.

Publicity for the museum invites visitors to “See Arizona through time,” and it means just that. The time refers to a starting point about 225 million years ago in what is now known as the Mesozoic Era. Scientists divide this era into three periods — the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous — and we saw representative fossil dinosaurs from each of those periods. Dinosaurs disappeared about 66 million years ago after a comet hitting the Earth made life impossible for large animals and set the stage for our mammal ancestors to evolve in their own varied life forms.

A Quetzalcoatlus fossil soars overhead at the Arizona Natural History Museum in Mesa, Ariz.Wayne Anderson

The dinosaurs here were different from what we have seen in other museums, but to us they physically looked much the same. For example, the fossil cast we saw of a Tyrannosaurus bataar was very much like the popular Tyrannosaurus rex. A smaller dinosaur from the coelurosaur group still is unnamed but is reported to be a fast-moving predator that hunted small prey and was the closest thing to a bird, maybe even having feathers.

A camarasaurus on display was representative of what we once called brontosaurus and might have weighed as much as 50 tons. It needed its weight for protection against predators such as the T. bataar, but its weight also meant it needed to eat constantly. About two dozen dinosaur skeletons are on display that get a lot of attention from children. In addition to the skeleton display, there is a dig site where children can uncover fossils.

The three-story cliff in one of the exhibits has automaton dinosaurs, which have been carefully constructed to look like the originals, from each of the three periods. They move and roar, and their roars echo throughout the museum. To add to the primitive feel of the experience, there is a thunderstorm and flash flood rushing down the wall every 21 minutes.

As we wrote in last week’s column, the dinosaurs are part of many exhibits at the museum. The collection is large and varied enough for this to be one of the most complete of its kind we have seen.


Dali Museum celebrates Surrealist's genius
 The Salvador Dali Museum is housed in a stunning $30 million building featuring a 75-foot entryway made of thick blue glass, which covers the spiral staircase that takes visitors to the main display area on the third floor.
In 2006, I wrote a column about the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla. The museum promoted itself as the top-ranked museum in the South.   Five years later, the increased threat of hurricanes caused a move from the old building to a stunning new $30 million building protected by 18-inch concrete walls on the downtown waterfront. The 75-foot entryway made of thick blue glass covers a spiral staircase that takes visitors to the main display area on the third floor.
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The docent who led our tour of 20 visitors was an expert at helping us understand what we were seeing.
Dali (1904-1989) was a Spanish surrealist painter noted at times for his grandiose manner. He has been credited with such statements as, “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”
Our guide focused much of the tour on four giant paintings. These paintings have realistic-looking people and objects, but Dali buried pictures within pictures that only became clear for us when they were pointed out. A picture of a female nude — modeled by Dali’s wife — standing in front of a wall, for example, became the face of Lincoln only after our guide pulled out a mirror and held it some distance away. Could that be the same picture? Finally, by standing about 20 yards from the painting and squinting our eyes were we able to see the president’s visage.
“The Hallucinogenic Toreador” is one of Dali’s greatest double-image paintings. We first saw a multitude of Venus statues inside a large bullring. As the docent talked, other images began to appear. The shadows on the Venus’ stomach form a chin and lips, with her left breast becoming Toreador’s nose and her face his eye. The dead bull’s head appears at the feet of the Venus statues.
The most beautiful of the four paintings is “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.” In the largest painting, at 161 by 122 inches, the realistic figures of Columbus and his crew towing a boat ashore are crowded with many other images. Two figures of Christ on the cross seen from above as well as a variety of other religious figures appear when you know where to look for them.
“Homage to Crick and Watson (discoverers of DNA)” is a metaphor that we had some trouble grasping. God is seen sitting in sky connected to a large cloud like a Holy Ghost, who is reaching down and touching an injured Jesus.
During our previous visit, we spent more time with the museum’s collection of 96 oil paintings, more than 100 watercolors and drawings, various graphics, photographs and sculptures. Both times we found this a stimulating and fun experience.
We had lunch at the Dali dining room that serves its food in the Spanish style. It is on the first floor next to a large gift shop and book store.
During our most recent visit, there also was an M.C. Escher show on display. He delights viewers with his visual illusions and puzzles such as two hands drawing each other, impossible staircases that take the viewer up and always end up back at the beginning, or reptiles becoming birds as they merge into each other.
A. Reynolds, who purchased the paintings in this museum, became a close friend of Dali’s. When Reynolds wanted to give them to a museum, he could find no museum that would meet his requirements: that all were to be displayed and none was to be sold. When officials in St. Petersburg learned of this, they offered a building on the waterfront and agreed to his conditions. In its new home, the collection continues to be one of the most important in the South — if not the absolute top museum.