…except when it comes to toys. We spend a lot of time talking about the way the media portrays women—how images of svelte, scantily-clad models on New York City’s sky-high billboards affect us mere mortals below, for instance. The struggle with body image and beauty standards begins at a very young age for girls, often with toys like Barbie, the beautiful doll who stares mockingly up at everyone unfortunate enough to be made of something other than flawless plastic.
Long before I began working in museums, I studied photography as an undergraduate student. My interest began as a teenager, sparked by a love of black and white documentary photographs. I was captivated by the universal language the medium spoke and the idea that with the push of a button, a single moment could be captured, documented, and kept forever. You can imagine my delight when I recently found myself tasked with sorting through photographs from our collections here at The Strong.
A beautiful collie stands in a meadow of blue and yellow flowers. His brown and white fur blows in the wind. He looks well tempered and loyal. I affectionately call him Sammy, but when I roll him over to rub his belly, I am confronted with an advertisement for Butter-Krust Bread. What gives? Sammy’s more than just a dog; he’s an advertising toy, just one of hundreds of similar toys distributed by businesses as advertisements between 1895 and 1920.
The signs are everywhere: YARD SALE, GARAGE SALE, ESTATE SALE, MOVING SALE. Like the sirens of Greek mythology, their sweet song proves irresistible. My sister and I spend many a weekend chasing down sales—a favorite leisure activity. I don’t consider myself a collector but a treasure hunter caught by the whimsical item that seizes my attention, making an almost instantaneous connection for reasons both known and unknown. I enjoy the hunt and am equally pleased to find something for my brother or sister, both collectors with specific interests.