Full STEAM Ahead! New Maker Workshops Arrive for Summer

Just in time for summer, the STEAM Team at Boston Children’s Museum is introducing a new series of Family Workshops! Designed to support visitors as they explore new and current technologies, these programs help chart a pathway to creativity and innovation.

The most important thing to know is that STEAM (short for science, technology, engineering, art, and math) is a ton of fun for both children and grownups! These workshops are hour-long, hands- and minds-on challenges designed to introduce those aged 7 and older to a diverse set of skills and new ways of thinking.

Past offerings include:

  • Learn to Solder”: visitors made necklaces, key chains, rings, and trinkets based on the designs they imagined.
  • Engineering Challenge: families designed model penguin enclosures to keep feathered friends cool at the zoo.

And we ran a screen printing workshop, resulting in a story that has really stuck with our STEAM team staff:

This past May, one of our screen printing workshops hosted three generations of a single family. Together with their adult children and granddaughter, a local couple had stopped by the Museum that weekend to celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary! Each family member got to screen-print his or her own design; along with some T-shirts and fabric designs, Grandma crafted a very special tote bag, which we’ve pictured here.

Heart Tote Bag

And that’s what we mean by “and older”. Grownups, too, deserve the chance to design and create! STEAM workshops don’t just build new ideas—they create lasting memories as kids and parents work to make something great. And the best part is they do it together.

Because when it comes right down to it…exploring our world is a skill we never outgrow.

 

 

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: How the Museum Rebuilt Itself After Burning to the Ground

On the night of October 19, 1942, smoke poured out of Boston Children’s Museum. The 2-alarm fire blazed while Jamaica Plain firefighters sought to extinguish it, and neighborhood children stood on the street watching and waiting. After several hours, two boys—James Baird and John Barrett—gained permission to enter the smoldering ruin to try and save any live animals inside. Rushing in, the pair unearthed two guinea pigs, both of which were still drenched from the hoses. As The Boston Post observed, the creatures immediately became “friendly and composed in the hands of their rescuers.”

baird_fire
James Baird and John Barrett with the rescued guinea pigs.

Boston newspapers lamented the loss of the Children’s Museum. The Boston Globe described the building as “gutted from cellar to roof,” going on to note how “at least $50,000 of damage” was done to the collections and exhibits. Much of the botanical specimens, doll collection, model ships, and taxidermy had been damaged or destroyed, and some valuable Audubon prints had suffered heavily from the smoke. Calls for funds, as well as donations of natural history objects to replace the ones lost in the fire, were quickly raised in the newspapers.

Despite the extensive damage, the Museum retained a brave face, persevering in holding their planned fundraisers for the next day. Children gathered in the auditorium next door to send Christmas gifts to the children of a then war-torn Great Britain. And, perhaps after noting a sudden interest in the public, the Museum also put together “Fire Fighting Today and Long Ago” in 1946, a special exhibit mapping the evolution of that profession.

Kids with Engine Model
Boys crowd around a model in the new Fire Fighting exhibit.

Correspondence in the Archives relates how a local donor agreed to contribute several items to the new exhibit, including models of fire engines, leather buckets and belts, brass nozzles, and prints of several fires…provided they were, in her words, “kept under glass where they would not be handled by the kids.” Upon her recommendation, the Museum also launched additional correspondence with the city’s Fire Commissioner, as well as the Chiefs of both the Boston and Cambridge Fire Departments. From this arrangement, reports indicate the Museum obtained several fire alarms for demonstration, as well as some equipment and models. Luckily, the Fire Departments were more open to the idea of children handling the donations!

Engine & Fire Models
A case in the Fire Fighting special exhibit.

Within hours of subduing the flames, Museum executives confirmed to the public that activities would continue next door while reconstruction took place. And yet, the 1942 fire at Boston Children’s Museum sparked a great appreciation for what was almost lost. As The Boston Traveler noted a few days later: “The serious fire at the Children’s Museum brings home more clearly…the value of this unique institution in the educational structure of the city. For years the children of Boston have learned there about the visible universe and its creatures in the most impressive and lasting way, by the direct impressions that come from seeing, handling and studying objects. This is teaching at its best.”

Explore with Your Child: Adapting Museum Activities to Your Own Home!

This blog post was written by our Health and Wellness intern, Lilly Day. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University, and is pursuing a degree in Child Life.

When I first began my internship at Boston Children’s Museum, I loved exploring and learning about the exhibits. I was curious to know how children responded and engaged with each exhibit, and how children’s behavior changed between areas in the Museum. I decided to observe in four Museum exhibits; Peep’s World, Kid Power, KEVA, and the Japanese House. I chose these four because they differ greatly from each other in both environmental design and the type of activities included.

After completing my observations in exhibits around the Museum, I considered what these observations demonstrated about child engagement both within and outside of the Museum environment. Keep reading for suggestions on how to bring favorite Museum activities and lessons into your own home!

dowel structures

In the Japanese House, children are often quieter and more cautious than in the rest of the Museum. The Japanese House is an authentic silk merchant’s home from Kyoto, Japan that is approximately 100 years old. Children likely recognize that this is a special environment compared to the rest of the Museum and adjust their behavior accordingly. If you want to facilitate your child’s participation in an activity that requires quieter voices and calmer bodies, try talking and demonstrating to your child how special the activity is. For example, if you are looking for a more peaceful dinner time, try setting up your home like a “fancy” restaurant; this could mean simply adding real or fake flowers to the center of the table and playing quiet music in the background, or going all out and making pretend menus (with only a few options).

Kid Power has a series of stations designed to inspire children to be active and move their bodies; one such station is a seat attached to ropes that instructs children to “Use your power” and pull themselves up using the ropes. Some adults help their children pull the ropes and lift the child’s weight for them, while other adults instruct their children on how to pull the ropes instead of directly helping. The children who completed tasks independently often spent longer focused on each activity. When working to inspire persistence in your children, consider offering guidance rather direct help. Next time you’re at a playground and your child is asking for help crossing the balance beam, maybe hold your hand just a few inches away from theirs. That way you are there to catch them if they start to fall, but you are also demonstrating your confidence in them to make it across the beam independently!

Visitors spent longer in KEVA and Peep’s World than in the other exhibits I observed. Peep’s World is designed for young children and includes a cave to walk through, shadow play, the Imagination Playground, and a large water play area. KEVA consists of large platforms and bins of KEVA planks, as well as structures built out of KEVA planks displayed to inspire visitors’ own creations. Both are fairly open-ended; in other words, they allow lots of room for children to interpret how they want to manipulate and play with the materials provided. If looking to engage your child for an extended period of time, consider providing them with open-ended materials. But that doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy KEVA planks! Do you have extra plates, cups, napkins, and straws from your child’s last birthday party? Challenge your child to build something with the leftover materials – if you are excited about the project, they will be too! Or, borrow an idea directly from Peep’s World and paint with water. All you need is a cup for water, a paint brush, and a few rocks for your child to magically change the color of with their water brush!

To brainstorm more activities that your child may enjoy, take time during your next visit to observe their likes and dislikes; notice which exhibits keep them the most engaged and replicate these activities at home. But don’t worry if an activity doesn’t work out exactly as planned! Children explore and experiment to figure out how this world works, and they will often find completely unique ways to play. Embrace this, and wherever your child’s creativity takes you, I hope you enjoy the adventure!

Introducing the CreatedBy: Festival!

CreatedBy logo

Boston Children’s Museum is thrilled to unveil a new twist on an old(ish) event! Mark your calendars October 25 & 26, 2019, for the CreatedBy: Festival—our new and improved annual celebration of hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) learning and discovery.

For the past three years, Boston Children’s Museum has produced and hosted the Boston Mini Maker Faire. This event engaged creative spirits and innovators from Boston and beyond, including engineers, artists, technologists, musicians, and anyone with a passion project they were excited to share. Going into our fourth year, we were determined to keep all of the aspects of our past events that visitors told us they loved, including featuring young innovators and lots of hands-on projects. We also wanted to be sure we had engaging activities for our youngest visitors, and opportunities to share the fun of the event with educators and students. Ultimately, we decided the best way to accomplish these goals was to develop a new event, the CreatedBy: Festival, entirely produced by Boston Children’s Museum with assistance from some of our amazing event partners from years past, including Artisan’s Asylum, NE First Robotics, and Olin College of Engineering, as well as an exciting new partner in Massachusetts STEM Week.

What is Massachusetts STEM Week, you ask? It’s a celebration of STEM across the state and a chance for all children to experience the exciting “ah-ha” discovery moments of engaging in STEM. On Friday, October 25, school groups and educators, as well as Museum members and visitors will engage in hands-on STEAM workshops and fun learning activities led by Museum staff and education- and technology-focused organizations meant to engage, share, and inspire. On Friday evening, our partners, makers, and sponsors will help us fill the Museum with fun, surprising, and kooky creations, and more opportunities to engage in hands-on STEAM. Saturday, October 26, will be another full day of opportunities for families and innovators to experience CreatedBy: Festival.

Over the next few months we will be communicating more information and details about the event. We can’t wait for you to join us for the CreatedBy: Festival which will be a truly memorable experience CreatedBy: Boston Children’s Museum, CreatedBy: Kids, and CreatedBy: You, Boston Children’s Museum’s visitors!

Message in a Milk Bottle: Creating a Geometric Community Garden

This blog post was written by Health and Wellness intern, Lilly Day. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University pursuing a degree in Child Life.

geometric garden 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each spring, the Health and Wellness Educator’s intern creates the Message in a Milk Bottle project, which centers on community building. This year, I had the wonderful privilege of designing and implementing this project. I wanted my project to represent spring and the exciting new possibilities that come with the season and to encourage children (and adults!) to contribute unique artwork; the combination of these ideas led to creating a Geometric Community Garden.

Real life community gardens offer individuals small plots of land within a larger designated area to grow plants of their choosing. Community gardens bring people together and often create a space for gardening that would not otherwise be possible in urban areas across the world. While implementing the Geometric Gardens activity, I provided handouts explaining a real life community garden in images and with developmentally appropriate language, along with suggestions of what is in a community garden. The suggestions included flowers and vegetables, but I also included images of rocks, topiary (shrubbery sculptures), and buildings to encourage participants to think outside of the box. The materials I offered for creating gardens echoed the visuals I provided in that they were open-ended; participants started with a piece of cardstock to act as a base in their representation of a garden. Gemstones, wood squares and ovals, multicolored felt cut-outs in a variety of shapes, brightly colored packing peanuts, and fabric samples were just some of the materials offered.

geometric garden 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to involve community outside of the Museum walls, I facilitated the Geometric Gardens project at Franciscan Children’s, Shriners Hospitals for Children – Boston, and The Campus School at Boston College. Each of these organizations serves children and families with special medical and developmental needs. By bringing the Message in a Milk Bottle project to them each year, individuals at these organizations have the opportunity to participate in a Museum event, and the visitors at the Museum have the opportunity to see and appreciate the individual creative contributions of individuals from different backgrounds and life circumstances than themselves.

Throughout late March and early April, I personally implemented the project at Franciscans and Shriners, and brought materials to the teachers at The Campus School to work on the project with their students. The activity was open to visitors at the Museum during April Morningstar Access, as well as twice during April vacation week, the theme of which was “Tell me a Story”. Before opening the activity up to Museum visitors, I began to create the Geometric Community Garden with contributions from those at outside organizations. As visitors completed their projects, they were encouraged to choose where their gardens fit into the community garden and tape them up themselves. With the display directly next to the activity, visitors could draw inspiration from projects that were already completed and appreciate the stories represented in each geometric garden.

geometric garden 4

 

Although I designed this project with the idea of encouraging creativity in children across Boston, I was still in awe of their creations and surprised by the unique ideas and depth of stories contributed by each participant. A child at Franciscans made an ice cream garden; a child at Shriners made a pepperoni pizza on a stick garden. A child from The Campus School created a football garden; a child at the Museum created a button to operate an airplane with. Participants ranged in age from approximately 2 years all the way to adulthood; one father helped his newly 2 year old daughter to stick down objects and then interpreted her work as creating a tractor, and proudly added the tractor to the community garden display. Children created 3D as well as 2D gardens, and adults asked questions about the gardens, interacting with their own children as well as other visitors while in the Museum. The range of storytelling weaved into the creation of this Geometric Community Garden project was inspiring, and an exciting representation of the uniqueness that each of us has to contribute to our communal story.

As an intern, this project enabled me to develop skills in planning, organizing, and facilitating a large scale activity that reached children and families across Boston. I was able to enhance my professional communication skills and learn from the story of each child’s garden. As a person, this project reminded me of the excitement in allowing creativity to flourish, the benefits of community and teaching community ideals to children, and the beauty of using open-ended materials to create something new.

geometric garden 3

Passover Memories in Collections

The Museum’s April vacation week theme is “Tell me a Story,” a perfect opportunity to share a story from the collection. With an estimated 50,000 items, the collection holds a treasure trove of stories waiting to be told. Some of these are simple, recounting what is known about a specific item or group of items – who the donor was, what the item is, when it entered the Museum collection, where it came from. These are always fun stories to share but I love when visitors to storage share their own stories too! Stories of their childhood or family memories inspired by finding a familiar object, stories of past Museum visits, or both. In these moments, I get my own behind-the-scenes glimpse at what makes the Museum’s collection so special.

Recently, I heard a story that is too good not to share. It is a Passover story. In January, one of the Museum’s long time staff, Jessie Kravette, started working on a project in the collection office. Although Jessie has worked at the Museum for 8 years, she had not previously spent much time in collections and so, like all new staff in the office, her project began with a tour of storage. Not far along our path, Jessie peered in a drawer of dollhouse furnishings and shared her collection story:

When my children were young, we used to come to the Museum regularly, at least once a month. And at some point during our visit, we would always head for the Dollhouse Exhibit, a quiet, darkened, carpeted space full of dollhouses, where you could really relax away from the crowds and immerse yourself in the tiny worlds throughout the room. There was also a wall-based exhibit with cutout Plexiglas windows which allowed visitors to peek into individual family scenes with different set-ups.

My absolute favorite was the Jewish family who were celebrating Passover from around the 1930’s. We were coming from a town where we were the only Jewish family I knew of. I frequently felt isolated and my children had some issues with their Jewish identity because it was so different from what was all around us, particularly at holiday times. So, I used to gravitate to this Passover Seder display and just soak in all of the familiar objects and little set-ups, letting the scene fill me with warmth and ages-old support for my identity.

Fast forward, and now I’m working part time in the collections department. On my first day, Rachel let me explore the storage room and I noticed some dollhouse objects in a large drawer. Looking more closely, my heart literally skipped a beat when I realized it was the same Passover set-up! And when Rachel said I could handle the objects, I couldn’t believe I was finally able to reach through that little window and pick up each tiny, very familiar item, turn it over in my hands, and remember back when…

As Jessie looked at the each detail, she noticed that the same Haggadah (Seder Service book) that lives on the dollhouse Seder table, one at each place, is the exact replica of the Haggadah for her own family’s Seder table. No detail was too small to duplicate in miniature.

While the “Dollhouse Exhibit” – The Ruth Harmony Green Hall of Toys – is no longer a permanent exhibit here at the Children’s Museum, this is just one of the many memories that it sparked. I can’t wait to hear your BCM collection story. Share it with us over on Instagram @bcmcollections, we’d love to hear it!

The Archives Celebrates Women’s History Month: Delia Griffin

Delia Griffin at work

In 1926, Delia Griffin, Director of the Children’s Museum of Boston, was featured in The Boston Herald, New England Portraits column:

“That the first Children’s Museum of New England is a big success is due in large part to the enthusiastic efforts of its director, Miss Delia Griffin. Miss Griffin is one of the leaders of educational interests in this country. She has had charge of the Museum on the shores of Jamaica Pond since its inception, 13 years ago, and she inaugurated its educational work which is widely and most favorably known…She hopes, this season, to arrange miniature museum exhibits for schools around Boston. She is increasingly being consulted by philanthropists, from all over the country, who are desirous of setting up and endowing children’s museums.”

Delia Griffin was born in Maine and educated at the Bailey School and Kent’s Hill Female College. She became supervisor of nature study at the Newton and North Attleboro, Massachusetts schools where she introduced school gardens and bird walks, and created lesson plans for teachers. She became Director of the Fairbanks Museum in Vermont for 10 years, where she revolutionized museum education for children. She developed live exhibits with hundreds of specimens and enhanced the historical department by creating new displays and hosting lectures. Griffin accepted the position as Curator at the Children’s Museum of Boston and began work on its opening day, July 1st, 1913.

At the Boston Children’s Museum, Griffin wasted no time filling the rooms with natural history and ethnological exhibits, a lecture room and a library. She ensured that display cases were created at a child’s eye-level, and that labels were written at an appropriate reading-level. Griffin led nature walks and encouraged local scientists to lead expeditions as well. She mentored groups of children creating their own clubs which would meet at the Museum. One club created a monthly magazine about happenings at the Museum, called Our Hobbies. They had yearly subscribers from many New England states, Japan, England, and Belgium. The Loan Department also grew under Griffin, creating kits of materials that teachers and groups could borrow. She collaborated extensively with Boston schools to ensure that the Museum and school curriculum worked hand in hand. The Museum presented lectures designed to complement children’s lessons and each month sent a bulletin to schools to alert them to upcoming events.

In only the second year of the Museum’s existence 297 classes visited, representing more than two thirds of Boston school districts and serving over 10,000 children. Griffin bolstered Museum activities during World War I to help keep children occupied as schools and libraries closed due to coal shortages. Extra events were planned for school vacation weeks, such as special nature collecting excursions and patriotic films. Under Griffin’s leadership Museum programs experienced huge growth, and in 1925 served 90,000 Boston students. Griffin directed the Museum for 14 years until 1927. Delia Griffin had a deep and wide-reaching impact on Boston Children’s Museum, education in Boston and the formation of children’s museums around the nation.

 

Sources

“Rare Work by Miss Griffin.” Boston Globe, June 21, 1913.

“New England Portraits: Miss Delia I. Griffin.” Boston Herald, November 26, 1926.

Sayles, Adelaide B. The Story of the Children’s Museum of Boston. Boston: Geo. H. Ellis Co., 1937.

Hidden Object Highlight: Feathered Capes

Every day, I come in to work and am surrounded by treasures. My “office” is a veritable cabinet of curiosities, and it is my job to gain an understanding of them. Most of this work is guided by immediate exhibit and program needs, intern projects, research requests, and other activities directed by institutional need. It is rare that I get to explore for the sake of exploring, but earlier this week the internet and Museum servers were down, so what’s a curator to do? I stepped into storage and made it a priority to take a closer look at two pieces that have held my fascination since I first “discovered” them in storage years ago.

The two items in question are feathered capes, or pelerines, each identified by different regional codes in the collection catalogue.

feathered cape back

Feathered Cape, Gift of Mrs. Susan S. Harriman, 1927, AF 96 (back)

I first came across “AF 96” years ago when searching for materials to incorporate in programs. It is stored with the Chinese cultural materials and was a true surprise to open the drawer and come across this gem. With a background in Chinese studies, this area of the collection has long held my interest. Because I completed those studies in Hawaii, something about the design also suggested the ʻAhu ʻula (feathered cloak) of Polynesia. The cape is in rather frail condition with significant feather loss and gives one the sense that the feathers might blow away with the slightest breath. The vibrant blue and green feathers come from peacocks, but the other feathers are unidentified in the records. The interior is also lined with feathers.

feathered cape back

Feathered Cape, Gift of Miss Ruth Louise Leighton, 1937, 3NK XX 380 (back)

The second item, “3NK XX 380,” is a similar feathered cape but is stored among the American History holdings. With the button details, this item seems right at home with Victorian era (1850-1920) fashions in the Museum’s collection. It is lined with silk and the neckline is bound with ribbon trim. The exterior design also includes peacock feathers and other fowl, which are again unidentified.

feathered cape back

Feathered Cape, Gift of Miss Ruth Louise Leighton, 1937, 3NK XX 380 (front)

Only ten years separate these two gifts to the Museum, but it is unknown if their origins are closer than the Museum’s records might suggest. AF 96 entered the Museum’s collection in 1927 with a note that it was “brought from China many years ago.” There is an additional note written in the 1960s stating, “change to Pacific Islands, Hawaii – although this may have been bought in China, is was made in Hawaii.” Meanwhile, 3NK XX 380 was given in 1937 and first identified as “Chinese” in the registration records. It was later changed to American History but no reasoning was given for this change.

feathered cape front

Feathered Cape, Gift of Mrs. Susan S. Harriman, 1927, AF 96 (front)

We may never solve the mysteries of provenance that these two items raise, but an internet search shows that these were popular accessories in the 1820s-30s. The time period coincides with King Kamahameha and Queen Kamamalu’s (fatal) trip to London in 1824. Feathered capes caught the attention of fashionistas in Europe and America and thus they may have been made globally to meet demand. China, South Africa, and England are all identified as possible locations of origin for these garments. For comparison you can search for and see other pelerines in several Boston area museum collections:

Historic New England

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard

While the two capes here at Boston Children’s Museum may be more common than first expected, they are no less fascinating and treasured here in the collection.

 

 

From the Scrapbooks: Boston Children’s Pet Shows of the 1920s

 

Being the archivist at Boston Children’s Museum means that I often come across little tidbits of information that I want to chase until I have the whole story. Recently, I came across the photograph above, of two children and a goat. Thankfully, the back of the photograph was labelled: “Jack Dixon and His Goat, Pet Show June 1928.” From there, I could hunt down more images of children and their pets by perusing the 1920s-era photograph albums in the archival collections. I found images of children with more traditional pets including cats and dogs. I then turned to one of the most valuable resources in the collection, scrapbooks of newspaper clippings about the museum. The scrapbook that covered 1928-1931 included multiple pages of coverage of the Pet Show, with some articles multiple pages themselves, so the readers of Boston were well-apprised of the happenings.

On June 16th, 1928, Boston Children’s Museum held a Pet Show requesting remarkable, unusual, and intelligent companions. The children of Boston responded, and brought all sorts of creatures to the lawn of the Pine Bank building on Jamaica Pond. These included the expected cats and dogs, but also chameleons, turtles, Japanese waltzing mice, parrots, goats, geese, canaries, tree toads, snakes, rabbits, hens, a salamander, and a Brazilian wildcat.

There was a day-long schedule beginning with the show itself. One newspaper described the action: “If you brought your pet you had to explain all about it, which made it all the harder for the contestants, because lots of the pets-for instance, Faith Holden’s Brazilian wildcat, “Zuni,”- didn’t even seem to care even a very little bit for the noted human custom of sitting still while somebody talks about you.” [Boston Sunday Post, June 17, 1928]

Besides listening to children discuss their pets, spectators had much to keep them occupied. The newspaper article noted a particular moment of hilarity, when “George Smith’s pet tree toad, measuring one and one-half inches big, got pretty near scared to death when a whole gang of collie dogs galloped into the arena to be exhibited.” And the audience all sucked its collective breath once again when Fluff the Angora cat, who had remained impassive all morning long, especially while being shown, came into contact with the two Japanese waltzing mice (named Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb) and gave them a good long look. Pet show-goers went on record later saying they were in “some suspense on account of the possibilities of the situation.” Thankfully, “Fluff, with a touch of disdain, remembered his dignity.” [Boston Sunday Post, June 17, 1928]

Prizes, in the form of ribbons and books, were given out for different categories and classes by Mrs. Huntington Smith, founder and president of the Animal Rescue League. Zuni the wildcat won Most Unusual, while the tree toad won Most Remarkable. Prizes were also given for the winners of the essay contest “What My Pet Knows.” These winners included Edward Russell about his Angora cat Fluff, and Virginia Coolen about her collie Scrapper (who also came with her 8 puppies).

Last of the day was an illustrated lecture from the Animal Rescue League on “How to Keep Pets.” All of the newspaper articles described the day as successful, with children gaining the opportunity to speak about their best friends, while also learning about the pets of others.

The day was so successful, in fact, that Boston Children’s Museum hosted another Pet Show the following year, on June 22nd, 1929. That year, descriptions of the pets and their owners made the front page of the Sunday Boston Post. This was probably partially in thanks to 5 year-old Francis Curley (son of former mayor James M. Curley) and his rambunctious English bull dog.

The article related the scene: “What had been comparative peace among the 60 oddly assorted pets, before the arrival of this blue blooded English bull dog, threatened to become a free-for-all in a brief, hectic second. A huge St. Bernard immediately took umbrage at the snooty condescending manner of ‘Tammany Boy’ and wanted to settle all claims of social standing right then and there…A two week old fluffy bit of kittenhood climbed in terror to the shoulder of her master Richard Mishler. Even ‘Caesar,’ the black snake, made his first wriggle of the morning, whether from excitement or just to shake a few kinks out of his length could not be determined.” [Boston Sunday Post, June 30, 1929]

The winner of Most Unusual went to Pep the monkey, owned by 4 year-old Russell Bradley. According to the Boston Globe, Bradley told others that Pep was “born on the Isle of Madagascar during the only thunderstorm in 200 years.” [The Boston Globe, June 30, 1929] There was also much amusement over Richard Daniels’ three goldfish, named Tom, Dick, and Harry. The Boston Traveler noted, “how their owner could identify them was a mystery to onlookers.” [Boston Traveler, June 29, 1929]

The Pet Show of 1929 wrapped up in similar fashion, with Russell Keller and Sophie Khyskow winning first and second place for the essay competition.

The stories one finds in the Archives at Boston Children’s Museum are often exciting and adorable. They can be traced through the vast range of materials in the collections. If you have any stories, events, clubs, or people that you want to learn more about, please email Caroline at turner@bostonchildrensmuseum.org.

Hidden Object Highlight: Oware

This blog post was written by Kelsey Petersen, the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections and Archives Management for fall 2018. Kelsey is currently a second year M.A. candidate at Tufts University, studying Art History and Museum Studies. Her research is focused on the display of African art in museums, the politics of representation, and cross-cultural artistic exchange. She appreciates the power of material culture to tell stories and connect others, and she hopes to continue with collections management after graduating.

When I started the Elvira Growdon Internship for Collections and Archives Management at Boston Children’s Museum, I learned that the Museum has a collection of over 50,000 objects, encompassing not just children’s toys and dolls, but also natural history specimens, geological samples, dinosaur fossils, global jewelry, indigenous baskets, and even a two-story Japanese home from Kyoto. Aside from Antarctica, every continent of the world is represented in the collection, and each object clearly has a story to tell.

While I could easily spend all day uncovering a single object’s cultural biography, I was especially interested in the cultural materials from Africa, which had not yet been systematically inventoried in the Museum’s collection database. As an art historian with a focus in the visual culture of the continent, I was eager to go through the fifty drawers of materials to gain a better sense of the collection, a large part of which was donated to the Museum in the mid-1930s.

With each passing day, the collection of objects from Africa continues to surprise me with its breadth of hidden materials. When I started my inventory project in September, I was expecting to find mostly wooden figurines, woven straw baskets, and an assortment of instruments. Instead I have discovered brightly colored East African kangas (large, patterned textiles worn and used in East Africa, often with a proverb in Kiswahili, one of the languages of the region), glass beaded jewelry, long metal spears (“Handle carefully; poisoned tips,” the catalogue card states), a delicate hair pin made of animal bone, and several gently curving wooden headrests.

One of my favorite objects I’ve come across so far is an oware, a wooden game board from the Ashanti region in Ghana, West Africa. With its long rectangular shape and evenly spaced depressions – with a few round seeds dispersed in each – the oware instantly reminded me of the mancala game set I had so often played as a child with my brother. After doing a little additional research, I learned that an oware is a type of mancala, one of many mancala game types played around the world. ‘Mancala’ comes from the Arabic word ‘naqala,’ meaning “to move,” and is a type of board game in which players ‘count-and-capture’ the greatest number of seeds possible, usually forty-eight in total. [One Africa, Many Countries- Ayo,” http://www.beyondthechalkboard.org/activity/one-africa-many-countries-ayo/%5D

Similar to other mancalas, the oware is comprised of two parts: a flat, rectangular base, and an oblong game board on top, with fourteen small cups and two raised bars in between the two rows of cups. Often intended for two players (although there can sometimes be teams), the purpose of the game is to strategically capture the opposing player’s seeds, keeping them contained in the large cup at either side of the mancala during the course of the game. The winner of oware is the player who collects the most seeds.

Mancala games are global, possibly originating in Africa or Asia over 3,000 years ago. There are hundreds of variation of the game, including layli goobalay in Somalia, ouri in Cape Verde, omweso in Uganda, and congkak across South Asia.  Oware, however, originated in West Africa, and is still played throughout Ghana, Senegal, and Gabon. ‘Oware’ comes from the Ashanti word ‘wari,’ meaning “he/she marries,” a translation that stems from the Ashanti legend that claims a man and woman decided to get married because they did not want to finish their endless mancala game. [History, Rules, and Play: The National Game of Ghana,” in Oware History and Rules (Mallee Blue Media), https://www.scribd.com/document/28894645/Oware-History-Rules%5D

The oware pictured here first came to Boston Children’s Museum in 1967 to be displayed in the Hall of Toys exhibit, when a staff member brought back a few examples of children’s toys from her vacation in Kenya. Although most of the seeds are now missing after years of use in public programs, researching this object makes me want to add a few more and challenge Rachel Farkas, Curator of Collections, to an oware match!

Interested in learning more about global mancalas? Check out Boston Children’s Museum’s ‘Beyond the Chalkboard,’ an accessible online resource that provides hundreds of curriculum-inspired activities for afterschool programs. One activity – “One Africa, Many Countries” – teaches participants the history of mancala, and how to play ayo, the Nigerian version of the game.

I encourage you to visit http://www.beyondthechalkboard.org/activity/one-africa-many-countries-ayo/ for this activity, and plenty more!

To learn more about the Museum’s General Cultural Collection, please visit http://www.bostonchildrensmuseum.org/about/collections/general-cultural-collection, and be sure to stop by the Museum’s window displays, located across the main hallway of each floor.