My love of movable books, and antique toys & games containing the richly colored chromo-lithographs of the last half of the eighteen hundreds brought me to The Strong’s on-line collection. I spent four days “oohing” and “ahhing” over the vast archive of images in the museums’ database before I discovered it was possible to view the actual objects by arranging an appointment or better yet applying for a fellowship for an in-depth immersion. Although I soon learned I was the first visual artist to apply for the fellowship program my request was respectfully considered and soon after I was awarded a fellowship.
I arrived in Rochester at the end of April, flowering trees and brushes in full bloom lined the streets. Christopher Bensch, Vice President for Collections, greeted me at the museum door and handed me a badge, which turned out to be the key to the kingdom allowing me access to the museum galleries, the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and a vast labyrinth of storage facilities housing the archives of over two centuries of toys.
Chris expertly maneuvered me through children of all sizes and ages, around the “staff only” sign and up a stairway to the third floor. There I was assigned a table, my home base, and introduced to The Director of Libraries, Beth Lathrop, who had prepared a cart containing close to fifty early children’s books for my browsing pleasure. I spent a day and a half leafing through these treasured books with their surprising pop-ups and the dissolves & slides, which seamlessly transform one image into another simply by moving a tab.
I was soon introduced to Nic Ricketts, known to those at the museum as Curator of Games and Paper Ephemera, to me the trusted guide to the museum’s behind the scenes collection of antique toys. I might have even gasped as he opened the first door to a massive room of open shelving containing row upon row of strange and wonderful automata, Noah’s arks, and pull toys all loving made for the pleasure of children. My eyes grew wider as we came upon lines of Victorian dollhouses with intricate chromolithographs glued to every surface.
But for me the best was yet to come, the climate controlled room housing steel flat files. Nic spent hours opening drawers filled with board games, stacking blocks, and picture puzzles from the middle to late 1800’s. I could hardly contain myself.
Cardboard soldiers begged to be picked up and played with. Alphabet blocks rested there as well all covered in the rich chromolithographs so characteristic of this period; images that will surely inspire my work.
By the third day I was able to find my way back to the security entrance unaided, quite an accomplishment I thought given the maze-like quality of the museum. On the last day I discovered a gallery in the main part of the museum that I had previously missed. How was that even possible? Obviously there was still more to see, but by this time my mind was whirling around like one of the wooden horses on the ground floor carousal next to the full-sized metal diner that served half-price milkshakes every afternoon. I staggered towards the exit for the last time exhausted and visually saturated, ready to get back to my studio to work. What an amazing experience!