The World of Toys

Beginning on Jan. 28 the Bruce Museum will host an exhibit entitled “Walter Wick: Games, Gizmos and Toys in the Attic.” This exhibit will spotlight the playful and interactive world of Walter Wick, best-selling author and artist-creator of the “Can You See What I See?” series and co-creator, with writer Jean Marzollo, of the “I Spy” books for children. Approximately 40 large-scale color photographs from his books, as well as several of the models used to craft the images will be on view. The models, photographs, and behind-the-scenes video clips are designed to enable visitors to understand Wick’s creative process.

One of Connecticut’s most successful artists, Walter Wick began his artistic career in the 1970’s as a commercial product photographer. An interest in optical illusions, especially ones involving photography and its effects on 3-D objects and scenes, led him to experimentation and exploration. By the 1980’s, he began work with Games magazine creating photographic puzzles. Several examples of this early work will be on view. For more information log onto Brucemuseum.org.

It’s quite creditworthy when a museum centers an exhibit on the seemingly trivial world of toys, it means they understand that these ‘gadgets’ are actually windows into the imagination…The most popular girl’s toy of all time is the Barbie doll and it took imagination and persistence for her to become the icon she is today… In the early 1950’s, Barbara Handler saw that her young daughter enjoyed playing with adult female dolls as much or more than with baby dolls. Handler sensed that it was important for girls to imagine what they themselves might grow up to become.

Handler took her idea to the ad executives at Mattel: the committee rejected the idea as too expensive and with little potential for wide market appeal. Soon thereafter, Handler returned from a trip to Europe with a doll, modeled after a character in a German comic strip. Handler hired a designer to make realistic doll clothes. The result was the Barbie doll, named in honor of her daughter, a pint-sized model of the girl next door.

Mattel finally agreed to back the Barbie doll and girls clamored for the doll, and Barbie set a new sales record for Mattel. Since then, Barbie’s popularity has rarely flagged; and today, with over one billion dolls sold, the Barbie product line is the most successful in the history of the toy industry.

The first Barbie doll sported a ponytail hairstyle, open-toed shoes, sunglasses and earrings. Mattel ad executives may not have been impressed, but little girls certainly were and the Barbie doll took retailers by storm. Mattel was so swamped with orders that it took several years for the supply to catch up with demand.

When I was a child, toys were an avenue into imagination and I presume many others feel that way also. If you want to relive your childhood or simply indulge the child within us all then maybe a trip to the Bruce Museum is in order this winter!

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