Dec 3, 2012

For McCord, holiday happiness is child’s play

Toys 3: the Voyage brings out the inner kid in all of us

Zoe Power

For McCord, holiday happiness is child’s play
An eclectic assortment of toys and props fill the halls of the McCord. (Courtesy of McCord Museum)

Toys! Voyages! Bright colours! Elephants!

You know it’s going to be an interesting exhibition when all of these appear on the promo poster, and even more so when you are see a walking blue miniature hippopotamus upon arrival.

Toys 3: the Voyage is the McCord Museum’s new exhibition, artifact gallery, and interactive wonderworld of play. The exhibition is the third in the museum’s series, which for the last two Holiday seasons has provided Montreal with a family-oriented step back in time. Toys 3 features nearly 200 toys and games from the McCord archives: a select and fascinating collection with production dates spanning nearly two centuries. Many of these, says Susanne Sauvage, McCord Museum’s President and Chief Executive Officer, are being shown now for the first time.

“All will be presented in settings that juxtapose the past and present, which will help children improve their observation skills within a museum environment,” Sauvage says.

The basic layout of the exhibition is a journey to ‘Abracadabra’—the fabulous land of toys. In room one, venturers-to-be can choose which essential objects they will take with them. Will it be a Komic Kamera from the 1930s? Or perhaps a 1950s Little Queen Mechanical Sweeper—produced “for the child who wants to ‘help’ Mother”? (Thankfully, and to their credit, the curators make no attempt to sway the boys in one direction and girls into another—such objects remain, instead, the cultural curiosities they deserve to be).

The next stop is to choose a mode of transport. Choices range from a 1910 wooden horse—with real horse hair—to a scale model kayak built by an Inuit artist in the 1940s, to a bright yellow 1960s ‘Earth Mover’ pedal car. With transport decided upon, adventurers can progress through the following rooms, which feature a zany animal-filled jungle (complete with clearing and campfire for those whose excitement is so much they need a break), a rollicking toy-hosted party in the park, and a ceiling lined with plastic umbrellas in such an array of pastel colours, that they form a glistening translucent rainbow in the sky.

Old toys get a second chance at life. (Courtesy of McCord Museum)

Old toys get a second chance at life. (Courtesy of McCord Museum)

The exhibition is intended to introduce children to observing and interacting in a museum, and hopes to engage them to become museum-goers, well into the future. To this end, The Voyage is the most interactive of the Toys exhibits to date. The exhibition space incorporates an area for story-tellings, which are held on Saturdays and Sundays throughout, as well as on special days in the Christmas period; and from December 26 to January 6, classic animated films will be screened in both languages during the day. Permanent interactive installments include a velcro wall, on which you can make your own designs from a series of textured and patterned geometric shapes; games such as dominoes; snakes and ladders; and a mirror wall which ingeniously avoids the traditional complications of museum dress-up features by allowing participants to become a princess, an octopus, an elephant—just by aligning themselves with the right part of the mirror. The exhibit also avoids telling participants that they can’t play dress-up because they’re “too big” (at last, a museum that isn’t ageist).

But never fear, ye high-minded and intellectually mature pupils of higher education—Toys is not an exhibition just for kids. There’s much to be had out of this exhibit both for those within and outside the ‘intended’ age range (three to nine years). As well as a fabulously tempting array of fun, exciting-looking objects, Toys is a historical exhibit with a significance and interest-factor equal to any other. After all—as the exhibition is quick to point out—what could be more universal than play? And what better means to gain a social and cultural insight into our past, than a direct and visual comparative perspective ,such as that which this exhibition provides?

Toys also offers a cross-cultural comparison. The exhibition (entirely bilingual) hosts a range of play items from both sides of the Atlantic. In one cabinet, a 1934 Shirley Temple doll holds court alongside a spectacularly elaborate Madame de Pompadour from 1950. Further along, G.I. Joe and Napoleon Bonaparte battle it out in a game of dominoes, as My Little Pony looks on. What’s more, you can emulate them yourself, with the novelty-sized and child-safe foam domino pieces interspersed throughout the room! In that way, once again the exhibit drifts from the ‘educational’ and back to ‘fun’—pretty unavoidable, considering the show’s theme. Get along to McCord sometime in the next few months, for a fascinating exhibition and a guaranteed smile.

Toys 3: the Voyage runs at the McCord Museum until April 28, 2012.  Student admission $8; free Wednesday nights after 5 p.m. and the first Saturday of each month.

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