“All right, play time is over; it’s time to get your head in the game,” my friend Lauren sternly implores our team. We’ve been through six rounds. By our calculations, we must only be behind our chief rivals by a few points. Our highly competitive team has its regular starting line-up this week, and we haven’t sustained any major injuries (yet). This isn’t an outdoor team sport or your ordinary parlor game, however—this is serious business. This is weekly pub trivia. For as long as I can remember, I liked collecting facts.
Childhood is sometimes punctuated with brief but potent moments of blinding fear. Children often have imaginations that run amok and dark, isolated places are perceived as settings of unspeakable horrors that must be avoided at all costs. Kids can convince themselves (and some of us, even as adults, are still convinced) that horrible creatures await in the basement to snatch an unsuspecting victim; that vengeful ghosts haunt dark hallways; and hideous monsters hide under the bed, preparing to grab the next set of feet that come too close.
Earlier this spring, the curators at The Strong gathered up items from the collections for a display we call “What Were They Thinking?” Although no one ever sets out to make a bad toy, the items exhibited included a number of toys, games, and dolls that make us wonder just what their designers and manufacturers thought about child safety, good taste, or the ways kids play.
I am a self-professed nerd. I blame (or should I say credit?) my parents, whose family vacation plans alternated visits to educational destinations such as Colonial Williamsburg, Gettysburg, and Washington, DC (No cruises to Aruba or trips to ski resorts for us, thanks. One spring break, my dad took my two brothers and me to a coal mine.) I devoured stacks of books from our town library each week—after completing my homework, of course. My school’s honors program generated plenty of extracurricular activities to keep our buzzing teenage minds occupied.
During our training, conservators usually specialize in a specific type of material, such as paper or paintings. As we become professionals, we find ourselves in institutions with diverse collections which requires broad conservation knowledge for all of the artifacts under our care, not just those comprised of our favorite material. Nowhere is this truer than at The Strong, where the museum’s collections range from paper dollhouse furniture to Barbie dolls to coin-operated arcade machines.