When I was a kid, I used to dream about running away to join the circus to be a clown. I loved the idea of being a clown—especially when my mother had come up with some particularly irksome chore. I found myself longing for the mystery and the majesty, the fun and the freedom of life under the big top. And still, every once in a while, for reasons that are not clear to me, I think about the circus.
People at Play
The year 2010 saw numerous important donations to the collections of the National Museum of Play at The Strong. I had the pleasure of examining and transporting one special collection—toys and toy prototypes made by toy and theme park designer Arto Monaco.
Some 135 years ago, four squirrels romping merrily through the woods met an unfortunate end. But, fortunately for us, those squirrels found a place in a playful diorama in the museum’s collections. Situated in a well-decorated parlor, the four squirrels are now posed in an eternal game of cards. That made them a perfect illustration for the induction of playing cards into the National Toy Hall of Fame a month ago. But before the diorama could go out on exhibit, it required conservation treatment—cleaning and stabilization of the scene prior to photography and display.
Playing with words and images can be funny: joke-telling, trickery, and satire allow us to be subversive without the repercussions that may accompany more malicious behavior. At seven or eight years old, my best friend and I produced a fake weekly newspaper. We pasted school portraits alongside our bylines and painstakingly crafted gossip columns, “horror-scopes,” quizzes, and bizarre feature stories about our classmates.
In my May 12 blog, I noted that the museum will soon be embarking on an important project—collecting play histories from all of you. These firsthand recollections and stories will help us bring new life to the objects in the Strong’s collection and will add a new dimension to the meaning of play for us all.
Here’s a little story about how foreign travel is the kind of play that keeps you on your toes.
The summer of 1979 will live on in my childhood memories. At the ripe old age of nine, my neighborhood pals and I were already masters of summer vacation fun. We made numerous trips to the community pool; played innumerable backyard games of tag, hide-and-seek, and red light, green light; and spent countless hours dashing through our lawn sprinklers. We took every opportunity to play outside, where we would remain from dawn until dusk. Mom would call us in when it was time to eat lunch, then again for dinner, and finally, when it was time to call it a night.
As a kid, my summers included family camping trips, excursions to the amusement park, and Fourth of July fireworks. But those were the landmark events that punctuated the extended freedom of June, July, and August. On a day-to-day basis, my activities centered on the fun we created ourselves. And the location for those activities tended to be the small patch of sun, shade, and lawn in our suburban backyard.