Talking to Children About Tragic Events

Our deepest condolences go out to the families of the victims of the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue this past weekend. This terrible crime is an attack on all of us and we send our love and support to the community of Squirrel Hill and the entire city of Pittsburgh. This latest tragedy is a reminder of how important it is to help all children cope and find comfort in difficult times.

Boston Children’s Museum Health and Wellness Educator Saki Iwamoto offers some tips to support your child in a difficult time:

When tragic events happen in the world, especially in places that relate to you, it can often be difficult to cope with these events. Parents and anyone who works closely with children have to figure out what to tell their children. I wish there was no such thing as tragedy in the world – but unfortunately, bad things happen, and we need to be prepared for them.

Children in different developmental stages understand and react differently to traumatic events. Even if they were not directly impacted by the event, they are often still aware that something unusual happened as a result of media coverage, adults’ conversations, or even slight changes in their regular routines. Children may not be able to express their concerns verbally like adults do. Instead, they may exhibit their feelings through their behavior.  Play provides children with the opportunity to express their feelings, make sense of the world, and cope with stress. So when something difficult happens in the world, make sure that children have plenty of time to play. Continue reading

Lunch and Learn: Changing the Channel on Children’s Media

It’s official—the digital age is getting younger.

This revelation is far from shocking. After all, iPhones have long been parents’ last line of defense against restless toddlers to the point where big-name companies like Fisher Price and LeapFrog now offer their own replicas. According to a recent study by Common Sense Media, kids as young as two are already clocking in an average of two and a half hours of daily screen time. But amid this ever-shifting technological landscape, how can parents hope to keep up? What steps can we take to ensure today’s media trends do not become tomorrow’s pre-programmed addictions?

Enter Dr. Seeta Pai. Executive Director of Education at WGBH and former Vice President at Common Sense Media, Dr. Pai has devoted her extensive research career to exploring children’s use of technology. Boston Children’s Museum is pleased to welcome Dr. Pai for Children and Media Usage: Trends and Tips, a special Lunch & Learn event, designed to help families navigate the pitfalls of adolescence and offer advice from leading experts in the field.

Join us November 2nd to hear Dr. Pai share her knowledge and convene a conversation around concerns and best practices for digital media with young children.

Hidden Object Highlight – Fijian Fork

Hannah Barber is the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections and Archives Management for summer 2018. Hannah is a current student at Syracuse University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts pursuing her Masters in Museum Studies. Hannah’s passion for museums and collections stem from her belief that museums can provide education that is inclusive and accessible for everyone and that collections are educational resources available to all.


As a part of the collections team, I walk through the storage room every day surrounded by thousands of objects. Today, as I was looking for a new object to write another Hidden Object Highlight post, I stumbled upon this item.

I studied it; admiring its carved handle and wondering what a 17 inch fork would have been used for and by whom. As I looked through the Museum’s records, I found that this piece was originally from the Fiji Islands and was donated to Boston Children’s Museum in 1941 by a local man from Brookline. Looking over his records, I found that he was an avid donor, gifting the museum many items from all over the world. Then, I read on about what precisely this object was. “Cannibal Human-meat Fork” is its title.

Cannibalism, in fact, was a part of the Fiji Islands history. It was a sacred part of tribal life that dates back to 2,500 years ago when bete (priests) or chiefs of a tribe would consume the flesh of enemies. It was thought that consuming them would be the ultimate obliteration of the individual, both physically and spiritually. Due to the fact that the bete was seen as a living representation of the Gods, they were not allowed to handle food at all. Typically, a servant would feed them and when it came to consuming human flesh, they used specially carved forks to feed themselves this sacred meal.

In the 1830s Christian missionaries started arriving in the Islands and began converting Fijians to Christianity. Cannibalism dwindled once a majority of Fijians converted, but the tradition continued up until the 1860s. Today, Fijians recognize that cannibalism is a part of their history but do not continue to practice the religious ceremony. In Fiji the locals are benefiting from this past by carving souvenir forks and cannibal dolls for sale in tourist destinations. It is likely that this fork was never used to consume human flesh and was a souvenir from a trip abroad based on the printed date of 1939, 80 years after the practice of cannibalism ceased to exist in Fiji.

Boston Children’s Museum holds collection objects that are surprising and often unassuming at first glance. Even working with the collections for the whole summer, I’m still finding objects that tell rich stories without being particularly eye-catching or grandiose in any way. It is incredible what you can discover when you look closer at an object. Come discover what else BCM has in its collection! Maybe you’ll find there is more than meets the eye.

 

Resources:

Crosbie, Emma. “Cannibal’s Fork from Fiji.” National Museum of Ireland. May 2013. https://www.museum.ie/The-Collections/Documentation-Discoveries/May-2013/Cannibal%E2%80%99s-fork-iculanibokola.

“Cannibalism.” The Fiji Museum- Virtual Museum. http://virtual.fijimuseum.org.fj/index.php?view=objects&id=67.

Edwards, Anna. “Cannibals with cutlery: The macabre nineteenth century Fijian forks used by tribesmen to eat the bodies of rival warriors.” Daily Mail. January 9, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2259519.

“Souvenir/Fork.” The British Museum. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=483012&partId=1&searchText=cannibal+fork&page=1.

 

Hidden Objects Highlight – Brittany Headdress

Hannah Barber is the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections and Archives Management for summer 2018. Hannah is a current student at Syracuse University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts pursuing her Masters in Museum Studies. Hannah’s passion for museums and collections stem from her belief that museums can provide education that is inclusive and accessible for everyone and that collections are educational resources available to all.

Figure 1: Boston Children’s Museum’s raggiera.

What is this object supposed to represent? Some may look at it and see the shape of peacock plumage or a medieval handheld fan of some sort. This object is actually a woman’s headdress. With several different names including raggiera, sperada, guazza, and corona lombarda that translate to “rays” or “Lombardian crown” in Italian dialects, they are typical of the Lombardy and Piedmont regions of northern Italy as well as the southernmost region of Ticino in Switzerland. The headdress is comprised of thinly pounded silver pins with pointed ends, a circular metal frame with braided thread wound over the frame, and a long pin with egg-shaped heads at each end to help support the frame at the nape of the neck. This traditional headdress dates back to the 16th century in these regions.

Figure 2: A diagram of the different components of the headdress with their Italian names. Courtesy of Roman Kozakand’s blog.

This headdress has a deep-seeded history in Italian/Swiss tradition. For most women, it was worn for the first time on their wedding day. The fiancé would give the bride-to-be a headdress before their wedding, as a dowry gift, and which would include about 15 silver pins. The mother-in-law or other female relatives would help place some of the pins in the bride’s hair days before the ceremony and each day leading up to the ceremony, the bride would add more pins. After the ceremony and celebration the husband would continue gifting pins to his wife throughout their marriage. This was considered a sign of affection and prosperity within the relationship. Today, the traditional dress is less common for weddings but remains seen as a costume in traditional dance groups as a way to preserve their history and culture. Here is an example of a dance group in traditional dress.

Figure 3: A photograph of the raggiera on a woman’s head. Courtesy of Roman Kozakand’s blog.

In Boston Children’s Museum’s collection, this raggiera is labeled in the collection as a “Brittany Headdress”. Brittany, a northwestern region of France, does not appear to have this type of headdress in their cultural ceremonies, so it was a challenge for me to discover where this headdress originated from after reading through the records. We do not know the story of how this beautiful headdress became part of Boston Children’s Museum Collection, beyond a name and donation date. We care for it, like all the objects in our collection, so they can become educational resources for everyone. This is one reason that I enjoy collections so much! The endless discoveries that can be uncovered through research is fascinating and I learn something new almost every day I get to work with collections. See what else you can discover in BCM collections!

References:

“Hair Ornament.” Victoria and Albert Museum Collections. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O137768/hair-ornament-pirotta-carlo/

Kozakand, Roman. “Costume of Brianza, Italy, and Mendrisiotto, Switzerland, and La Raggiera.” Folk Costume & Embroidery. Blogspot. February 23, 2013. http://folkcostume.blogspot.com/2013/02/costume-of-brianza-italy-and.html

Rosendtadt, Mauser.“La ‘Corona Lombarda’.” Georgian Garden. Blogspot. September, 26, 2011. http://georgianagarden.blogspot.com/2011/09/la-corona-lombarda.html

“Raggiera.” Gruppo Folkloristico Bosino. http://www.folkbosino.org/raggiera.html.

 

Hidden Object Highlight

Hannah Barber is the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections and Archives Management for summer 2018. Hannah is a current student at Syracuse University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts pursuing her Masters in Museum Studies. Hannah’s passion for museums and collections stem from her belief that museums can provide education that is inclusive and accessible for everyone and that collections are educational resources available to all.

You may take a look at this peculiar specimen and wonder when, where, and why was it made and how is it used? This mysterious mask resides in the Mexican Cultural Collection at Boston Children’s Museum (BCM). This “tiger” mask most likely represents a jaguar or ocelot, since tigers are not native to Mexico. The tiger mask is used in the Tiger Dance, a traditional dance originating from ancient Mexico. The story originates from the Oaxaca/Guerrero area of Mexico and this particular mask dates back to the first half of the 20th century.

The dance is based on the story of Don Manuel Peña and Don José Cortés, two of the region’s richest cattle ranchers. Their livestock was being stolen by a magic tiger, so Don Manuel hires a couple and their dog to hunt the tiger. They look for the tiger until the dog finally tracks it down and the hunt begins. Doña Catalina, the woman who was hired, shows José Ovejon, her husband, where the tiger is hiding. José Ovejon shoots at the tiger as the dog barks at it from the bottom of the tree. Twelve dancers accompany the hunters and dance around the tiger’s hiding place. Since the tiger is magical, the bullets that José fires can’t harm it. Doña Catalina gives her husband some garlic to break the spell that his gun is under. The spell is broken and in the end, the hunt is successful and the tiger is killed.

The Tiger Dance is performed by 14 people who dance in two rows, the tiger, and the dog. The 12 dancing men wear white cotton trousers under brightly colored knickerbockers decorated with lace from the waist to the knee, hunters’ shirts, and two cotton squares, one sits on their head and the other is held in their hand. They also wear caps decorated with sequins. Doña Catalina wears a skirt with lace edging, an embroidered blouse with tassels around her shoulders and waist, a shawl, and a hat. The tiger wears a yellow suit with brown spots and a wooden tiger mask with mirror eyes. The hunter wears leather pants, a suede waistcoat, and hat. Throughout the theatrical performance, the dancers who play the tiger and the dog do some incredible moves verging on acrobatic. To see a unique version of this dance performed locally in Mexico, check out this video!

There are a few different versions of this dance originating from different groups within Mexico but most are performed for El Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, Mexico’s largest festival that occurs at the end of October and into November every year. The tiger mask is usually made of carved wood, hair, whiskers, and yes, real animal teeth for the mouth. Modern masks are not always made out of the same material but often look as wild and ferocious as this one. This is just one example of El Día de los Muertos masks that the museum takes care of. I’m still looking to see what else I can uncover while going through the collection and hope to find some more objects related to the Tiger Dance. Come explore what else BCM has in its collection too!

 

References:

“Dances from the Oaxacan Coast.” OaxacaNews. https://www.tomzap.com/dance.html.

Lewis, Elizabeth. “Mexican Art & Culture.” Capstone Classroom. (2005). https://books.google.com/books?id=2F4WpTXN5msC.

Tiger Dance/Danza del Tigre. 2016, Shalom Producciones. Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrQfcQ3LxjU

In the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, the Statue of Liberty Weeps

Posted by Nirav Dagli, Chairman, Board of Trustees and Carole Charnow, President & CEO Boston Children’s Museum

Throughout its history, our nation has not only persevered in the face of challenges, but in most cases has triumphed over them. From the revolution for independence, to the Civil War, to the two world wars, and to the struggle for civil rights for all, we have often waved the torch of the American faith in individual freedom as a beacon to the world. We have prevailed over many threats to our democracy and having been the singular super power for the past twenty-eight years, the United States has used its power on many occasions to help those in need around the globe.

Hence it is shocking to see scenes of hundreds and hundreds of children inhumanely separated from their parents and held in detention centers at our borders – scenes that were historically witnessed in particularly cruel dictatorial regimes elsewhere in the world that we fought and overcame. Is this the same America that has led the world in achieving many rights and freedoms of the individual for the last hundred years?

We are a nation of immigrants. In 1774, Thomas Jefferson said: “Our ancestors… possessed a right, which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies, under such laws and regulations as, to them, shall seem most likely to promote public happiness.”

The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applies to all.  Almost every one of us is here because of the words on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty “Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Regardless of the challenges and the need to protect and support the physical and economic security of all Americans, the recent enforcement undertaken by the current administration is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment. This lowers our esteem in the eyes of not only the families who are the target of this unnecessary action, but also our allies, and distressingly, our own.

Boston Children’s Museum stands resolute in its support for the well-being of ALL children in the United States and around the globe. We unanimously reject inhumane treatment of any person anywhere. We welcome the involvement of all cultural and educational institutions, businesses and citizens to implore and demand that our lawmakers act immediately to reverse the current injustice.

If we do not act now to end this crisis, the next time we look in the mirror or in the reflection of our children’s eyes, will we see someone who rightfully belongs in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?”

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Meet the STEAM team

On October 6th & 7th 2018, Boston Children’s Museum will be hosting the Boston Mini Maker Faire for the third consecutive year. But did you know that the museum has been providing hands-on learning experiences for children for over a century? Today, Boston Children’s Museum has an exciting team of exhibit and program developers that all work towards providing robust experiences in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (S.T.E.A.M)! In anticipation of one of the team’s favorite projects, the Boston Mini Maker Faire in October 2018, every member of the STEAM Team was asked the following question: What do you make, and why?

Melissa Higgins: Senior Director, STEAM


I wish I could differentiate myself from the HGTV-watching, Pinterest-inspired masses, but, I make DIY house projects! Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve taken five trips to the hardware store in one weekend. This is how we learn. I think pretty much anyone who lives in Boston will agree with me when I say that the general lack of storage in our city dwellings forces a lot of DIY creativity. There’s something really satisfying about imagining a project, figuring out how to bring it to life, and actually using it every day in your home. Plus, it’s a great test of the long-term stability of your marriage.

Alissa Daniels: Educator – Science Program Manager


I make earrings and other stuff from recycled plastic. “Homemade Shrinky Dinks” was one of my regular Kitchen Science projects here at BCM, and I would tell kids “If you punch holes in it, you can make earrings or key chains or other stuff.” And then one day I thought “Well…I can do that too.” It was amusing and fun, but then I discovered other people liked my things enough to pay for them. So now I do it for amusement, fun and a tiny tiny bit of profit.

Cora Carey: STEAM & Maker Program Manager


I make everything from spinnakers to recycled wool hats to bikes that make bubbles – sometimes out of necessity, sometimes as a creative outlet, but always because it’s fun and challenging to make stuff. I make things for my kids, my house, my neighborhood, my job, and occasionally on commission.

Ivy Bardaglio: STEAM & Maker Coordinator

I like to make a mess. I love working on big, in-your-face projects– like a human-powered stamp roller! I also make small everyday things, from tie dye to candles to calligraphy. I enjoy the independence and self-reliance that making gives me.

Faith Johnson: Educator – Art Program Manager

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Both as a practicing artist and educator, I find joy in facilitating and creating experiences that spark imagination, curiosity, exploration, collaboration, connection, reflection, creative voice, and transformation. I love to feel empowered and in turn, empower people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to imagine, activate, and participate thoughtfully in the creativity of the world inside and around us.

Rosa Frank: STEAM Specialist

At Boston Children’s Museum, I make the same things our visitors make: paper bridges, coffee-filter snowflakes, zoetropes, leaf rubbings, scribble bots, paintings, drawings, sculptures and more. I make these things to learn about what works and what doesn’t. I explore the potential of the materials, and I find ways to help kids work through the challenges. At home, I make greeting cards, found poetry, and gift-wrap from recycled materials. These are things to give away, to show appreciation and gratitude for the people in my life.

Neil Tembulkar: Maker Faire Project Manager

What do I make? I make my life more difficult. Why? I try and make/do/fix/create everything with a misguided overconfidence. At times I am successful. Other times I turn to online tutorials and success is a coin flip. Often times I fail. No matter what the task is, the attempt is the rush, and the result is a lesson. When I’m not engaged in such Maker-hubris, I like to write, play percussion instruments, and most of all: make people laugh!

Teacher Appreciation Week – Who Inspired Us to Make?

originally posted on Boston Mini Maker Faire, May 8, 2018

While we all know teachers deserve year-round appreciation, this week is Teacher Appreciation Week and our team took the opportunity to think about our educators, and which of them inspired us to Make:

“…The teacher who introduced me to Making also happens to have been my grandmother! Gram was a nursery school teacher and reading specialist focused on dyslexia. She was also a knitter and a painter. Thanks to her natural inclination for teaching, both inside and outside the classroom, I learned how to knit and paint, too. My early experiences Making turned into a full-blown love for all kinds of art, and projects of almost any type. Everything from making wreaths out of shells to building a shelving unit is fair game. I still knit today and think of Gram whenever I finish a project…”

“…John Farias was my Biology teacher in 9th grade, and then my Vertebrate Zoology (elective) teacher my senior year.  I loved Mr Farias.  He was so excited about Biology, from the way cells work to larger structures.  I remember once during the zoology class, we were dissecting something pretty big, and I found something in the brain I couldn’t identify.  I brought it to Mr Farias and he was fascinated.  “I don’t know what that is!!!  We’ll have to find out.”  This was well before the days of the Internet and instant gratification; Mr Farias’s enthusiasm for not knowing something and seeing it as an opportunity to learn something new really stuck with me.  I went on to major in zoology, and later became an informal science educator…”

“…In college, I took a class called “Psychology of Sustainability”. My teacher challenged the class to go 10 days without producing any waste. During that time period, I really had to get creative with reusing, recycling, and creating novel solutions to my needs. That experiment caused me to find new ways to make things with my hands and my brain. When I joined the Boston Mini Maker Faire team, I stumbled across this quote that really captured my experience in that class: “[The Maker Movement] has the potential to turn more and more people into makers instead of just consumers, and I know from history that when you give makers the right tools and inspiration, they have the potential to change the world.” (Time Magazine)…”

“…The most rewarding class I had in high school was Humanities: the intersection of art, music, and English literature. For the class’s year-long culminating project, my friends and I were at a loss for what to do: we considered ourselves left-brained non creatives. Daniel Niven, an engaging and relate-able educator, then sat with us for hours of brainstorming to help us realize that we could make music that has intriguing mathematical themes and components. Not only did he inspire us to compose a nine-minute live-performed song about mathematical properties (‘Definition 23’ by Euclidean Dramamine), but he spent meaningful time helping us gain creative confidence and an appreciation of our “right-brain” potential. This was a crucial first step to then pursuing many Maker projects that followed in high school and college…”

“…I’ve been lucky to have numerous great teachers who encouraged Making. It’s hard to choose one or two to mention, but this week, I’m thinking of a couple of my sixth-grade teachers from Mount Nittany Middle School. My math teacher, Nate Cattell, had us design and build a bookcase, a toy box and a house out of cut and folded oak tag paper. The designs had to meet precise specifications, and the paper had to be all one piece. Boy, were those projects challenging (but they were rewarding, too). My art teacher, Julia Nelson, got me past an artist’s block by suggesting I turn my Junk Project – a sculpture made from recycled materials – into an installation, using the space on one of her shelves. A huge thank you to Mr. Cattell, Mrs. Nelson, and all my teachers!…”

Who inspired you to Make?

Message in a Milk Bottle Project: Building Community Connections

This blog post was written by Health and Wellness intern, Deanna Gouvia. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College pursuing a degree in Child Life.

Every year at Boston Children’s Museum, the Health and Wellness intern puts together a special community project called Message in a Milk Bottle. This year, I had the opportunity to design, coordinate, and facilitate the activity with visitors at Boston Children’s Museum as well as children and adults at Boston College Campus School, Franciscan Children’s, and Shriners Hospital for Children. I titled my activity “Building Community Connections” to emphasize the idea that we all have people who are important to us and whether we live near or far, or cannot always be together, we are still connected as one community and we can work together to create a collaborative piece of art.

The goals of this activity were to promote community engagement throughout local organizations, to encourage social and emotional development by thinking about social relationships and the importance of those people, and to enhance interactions between people of different ages, gender, cultures, abilities, and locations.

During March and April, I visited Shriners Hospital for Children and Franciscan Children’s to facilitate the activity. Materials were provided for Boston College Campus School staff to do the activity in their different classrooms. Each participant was asked to think of one or more people who were important to them and create a piece of art that represented those important people using a variety of craft materials that were accessible to people with different interests and abilities. The activity was then duplicated at Boston Children’s Museum during April’s Morningstar Access program and again during regular operating hours on April 22nd.


During the creation process some wonderful conversations and illustrations about community and important people took place. At Shriners, one child decorated a person as her favorite nurse who helped her throughout her medical experiences starting when she first went to Shriners. Another child at Boston Children’s Museum commented that her father was her important person because he “tucked her in and [they] did fun things together and [he] loved her”. At Franciscan, a family group of a mother, a teenage boy, and a toddler girl worked together to create their own family piece to contribute. At the Campus School, each classroom completed the activity to contribute their pieces to the overall display, which created a sense of community at the school.

There were people of different ages, abilities, and languages working together which really illustrated the idea of community connectedness despite differences. At the Museum I was very encouraged to see a great deal of inter-visitor interactions. Children and adults alike, were conversing about their important people, working together to find desired materials, and complimenting and commenting on each other’s art. I was also happy with the number of adults who participated, making their own important people, connecting their art with their children, and encouraging conversations about community and how we are all connected.

The art gathered from the local organizations as well as from the Museum were collected and installed on display in The Common at Boston Children’s Museum on April 22nd. Despite the distance between the children and adults in the hospitals and Campus School, and the visitors at Boston Children’s Museum, they were each able to contribute a piece of art that was important to them, to a greater collaborative piece of art that signified community, near or far, as represented by the people centering around the Earth. The display will remain until I complete my internship on May 4th.


Being responsible for this project from start to finish allowed me as an intern to develop skills I otherwise would not have. I had the opportunity to take on a strong leadership role as I coordinated with staff members at other organizations and facilitated the activity in the various settings. By completing this project I have also learned how much work, effort, time, and collaboration goes into putting together an activity of this scale. It is certainly an experience I am very proud to have had and one that will continue to influence my work as I continue on in the field of child life.

Museum Miniatures: Maximum Fun

 

written by Caroline Turner

Caroline Turner is the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections and Archives Management for the spring 2018 semester. Caroline is a current student at Simmons School of Information Science pursuing her Masters in Library Science with a concentration in Archives Management. Caroline’s love for history and research grew from her experience on her family’s farm in upstate New York, where she enjoyed discovering tiny antique haircurlers, learning about the history of her ancestors and the region, and turning the cows out to pasture.

  

As a child, my favorite games were vast imaginary scenes complete with horses, castles, action figures, dolls, matchbox cars, and stuffed animals. I loved the quiet theater of it, and how a tiny shift of one toy could signify large transformation in the story playing out before me. When I became this spring’s Elvira Growdon Intern, I was drawn to these toys that encouraged imaginary play in the collections at Boston Children’s Museum (BCM). I was thrilled to find an assortment of miniature toy soldiers that evoked a wonderful sense of nostalgia and had endless research possibilities.

Toy soldiers were found in Egyptian tombs, and were first made from wood, stone, or clay, specifically for nobility. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, lead figures were made for the noble families in Germany and France. In the nineteenth century, the increases in metals, industry, and nationalism in European countries resulted in the increase of toy soldier production. German toy makers emerged as the early leaders in lead soldier manufacturing. German makers specialized in “flats” which essentially looked like cutouts on a small stand. The owner of the toy shop would decide on a subject, and then commission a draughtsman to make a drawing of the figures. An engraver would then transfer these drawings onto slate to create a mold for the molten metal. Because the figures were flat, they required less metal to produce. Once the figures were made and cooled, they would be handed over to women and children to paint. Once they were painted, they were sold by the toy shop. While the German flats in the Boston Children’s Museum Collections are perhaps from centuries later than the earliest production boom, they still fit the classic size and were made using the same technique.

The subjects of these German figures were often educational in nature. During the Enlightenment, people became more aware of how their children played and learned. Draughtsmen and engravers often looked to scholarly material for inspiration. They also looked to fine art, which often emphasized antique nudes. One favorite subject was Roman battles, especially against European groups like the Gauls. Of the three German sets at BCM, two of them are a Roman Camp and the Romans fighting the Gauls. Since the subjects of the figures, and the children playing with them, were mostly male, and because the toys were for educational purposes, having a few nude or naked figures was deemed acceptable. The Roman Battle set at the Museum includes a few naked and dying men on the battlefield.

Meanwhile in Great Britain, English toy makers were looking for a way to produce toy miniatures in a more efficient manner. William Britain made the technological breakthrough in 1893: hollow casting. This allowed toy makers to make round metal figures that, because, they were hollow, were even cheaper to produce than the flats. Britain’s toy company, aptly named “Britains” became the world leader in toy soldier production. He churned out different regiments from around the British Empire, including the Scots Guard and Bengal Lancers. At BCM, there are many sets of Britains Soldiers, including the Canadian Mounted Police and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Historians also differ on the purported historical accuracy of the miniatures. Some companies wanted to churn out as many different sets as cheaply as possible, and so they used the same molds but painted the figures to be different companies or even from different time periods or places. A mold of a running man might suffice for both a Roman soldier and a World War I soldier. Other companies, however, very meticulously made detailed and individualized molds for different sets. At BCM, I struggled to identify the manufacturer of a Coronation Parade set celebrating the 1937 Coronation of King George IV and Queen Elizabeth II. Many toy British toy companies issued a set that year, and they all incorporated the minute details of the carriage, the horses, and the guards involved. All the sets, therefore, look extremely similar.

  

Historically, miniature sets have even been accurate enough to train real soldiers. During World War II, miniature tanks, planes, and soldiers were used to teach new recruits how to quickly identify and differentiate allies from enemies. And before World War II, during the 19th century, European military leaders instituted wargames, or “Kriegspiel” into military training. These games taught military tactics and maneuvers as well as map reading, as trainees moved toy soldiers across various diagrams.


Perhaps it is with this history in mind that some historians have argued that toy soldiers promoted violence, and even led to both World Wars. After all, Winston Churchill himself attributed his military career to the influence of his large toy soldier collection. The more current school of thought, however, is that children do not become more attuned to violence from playing with toy soldiers. Instead, children can learn valuable skills from carefully and patiently setting up their soldiers, and by cataloging their collection. Imaginary games can teach children about being in control of complex situations, planning ahead, and organizing the details.

Many families in the 19th century peacefully incorporated their toy soldiers into their nativity scenes along with putz sheep and other small figures. Complex landscapes often included natural materials like moss and branches as well as the toy soldiers, carved animals, and nativity figurines.

To close my internship here at the Museum, I was able to set up my own scene mixing a variety of soldiers throughout time and place with other toys such wooden zoo animals and putz sheep, paying homage to the history of the toy soldier and the variety of imaginative play. I hope you will be able to visit the Museum and discover this scene of miniatures in the Collections window on the second floor.

References
Kenneth Brown,”Modelling for War?: Toy Soldiers in Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain,” Journal of Social History 24, no. 2 (Winter, 1990):

Thomas Mannack, “The Ancient World in Miniature: German Flat Tin Figures of the 19th and 20th Centuries”, in Imagines, La Antigüedad en les Artes Escénias y Visuales, P. Castillo et al. (eds.), (La Rioja 2008)

Dave Gathman, “Toy Soldiers Trace Nearly All of History—But Not Very Accurately     ” Chicago Tribune, August 24, 2015.