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.

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

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!

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.