In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... the A-Team.
When The Strong museum recently acquired a Shirley Temple doll from the 1930s, it went to the museum’s doll conservator Darlene Gengelbach for treatment. These dolls have sleep eyes that open and close with metal rockers. The rocker is a spindle attached to the inside of the doll's head with a small weight attached to a metal plate. Each painted metal eye has a celluloid pupil and iris.
More significantly, the celluloid centers of Shirley Temple's eyes appeared "crazed," a term conservators use to describe fine cracking throughout the early plastic. In the early 20th century, manufacturers used celluloid to make knife handles, fountain pens, and phonograph records. It imitated ivory, wood, tortoiseshell, or bone. When celluloid deteriorates, it can appear cloudy, cracked, or shattered. After a certain point in time, the celluloid's inherent vice causes it to catastrophically fail, crumbling or shattering into small glass-like chips. The Shirley Temple doll we acquired had celluloid eyes that were in the late stages of deterioration.
Mothers get their day in May. Fathers are feted in June. And what about sisters and brothers? Their turn comes on April 10—Siblings Day. Siblings Day hasn’t earned recognition as a federal holiday (yet), but since 1998, governors have proclaimed Siblings Day in 49 states. From experience and observation, I know that sibling relationships can take any number of different configurations. And that made me think about the famous siblings that come readily to mind from the world of toys, dolls, and games.
Barbie has raised eyebrows since her debut at the 1959 Toy Fair. Modeled after the German Bild Lilli novelty doll, Barbie provided girls a playroom outlet for their dreams and aspirations. Inventor Ruth Handler knew that girls wanted to play at more than being a mother to life-sized baby dolls, but Mattel executives were skeptical.
The Strong’s research fellowship program not only provides an opportunity for scholars to view rare material in the museum’s collection and archives, but it also expands the potential for the study of play in academia. Being surrounded by the artifacts of play with which we all have experiential knowledge helped me realize the importance of studying play objects and children’s culture. Although my research focuses specifically on Mattel’s historical production of Black Barbie dolls, The Strong reminded me why my research topic is significant.
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.