Toy Story

by Meredith McGovern, Art and Culture Collections Manager 

I promise this is the last blog post I will write about the Indiana State Museum photograph collection (for now). You can see my other posts here: Date this Photo and What a Beautiful Baby Boy … Ooops, I mean Baby Girl. I just couldn’t resist showing you these sweet portraits of children. Even though they were taken in different decades by different photographers, each child poses with a favorite toy. Click on the photos to see larger images.


Darling, right? I just think there’s something sweet about the common thread that is woven throughout these photographs of children taken over a span of 100 years — toys! Which toys appear in your childhood photos?

The museum behind the museum

by Jeff Tenuth, Science and Technology Collection Manager

I give a lot of tours at the Indiana State Museum. These are mostly “behind-the-scenes” tours, not gallery tours. Visitors can take themselves through the galleries, but behind-the-scenes tours offer much more.

When visitors come into the museum, they see galleries, attend programs, eat at the restaurants or shop at the museum store. They tend to think that’s all there is to a museum. But in reality, what they see is the end product. Most of the work for the galleries (and programs) is done behind the scenes and the public rarely sees any of it. Nor does the public see the actual size of our collection. The artifacts they see in galleries represent only one or two percent of our total collection. The larger the collection, the more of it is in storage. This is true in most museums. Take the Smithsonian for example. Their collection numbers well over 250 million artifacts. Imagine how big their galleries would have to be to show all of their collections. For a large museum like the Indiana State Museum, we show a few thousand artifacts at one time, but we have hundreds of thousands of artifacts in our collection. It’s simply impossible to put everything on exhibit — we would need galleries the size of football fields! That’s why it’s so important to show visitors and other guests what lies behind-the-scenes. I’ve never had a tour participant who didn’t walk away astonished at the size and breadth of our collection. Only then can the public see what a daunting task it is to care for the largest publicly held collection in the state. With a greater understanding of what the casual visitor doesn’t see, a tour guest usually comes away with a greater appreciation for the collection and what it takes to care for it.

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Another reason the public doesn’t see and doesn’t know about the size, diversity or location of the collection is intentional. We do that to maintain the security and environmental integrity of the collection. The collection is actually hidden in eight storage rooms in the Administration building, not the building where the galleries, restaurants and other public facilities are located. The eight storage rooms allow us to store the collection by type of material. Continue reading

A mouse in the house

by Meredith McGovern, Art and Culture Collections Manager

Recently, I stumbled upon a couple of mice while reorganizing artifacts in one of our storage rooms. As a collections manager, this would normally count as one of my worst nightmares. However, these were not the kind of mice that smuggle crackers, peanuts and other snacks from the pantry! These were toys, two little windup rodents.

Toymakers have used steam, cranks and clockwork for hundreds and even thousands of years to make toys move, whether it be a leaping jack-in-the-box or a twirling ballerina en pointe inside a jewelry box. During the 19th century, toymakers started mass producing coils and keys, the parts that make windup toys move. They were able to make toys easier and cheaper; more children had the chance to own a windup, in many cases a toy mouse.

Meet this little guy from the Indiana State Museum collection — a gray suede mouse with black beady eyes and a string tail. The Schoch sisters who lived with their parents on the south side of Indianapolis played with this mouse, probably using it to torment their mother. When the key on its back was wound, a clockwork mechanism inside turned the brass wheels and sent the mouse scurrying across the floor. I can only imagine the Schoch sisters’ poor mother screaming bloody murder the first time the mouse raced between her feet! The sisters played with this toy sometime in the 1930s, but it might have been manufactured as early as the 1880s.

And here’s our somersaulting mouse, clearly an early knockoff of Mickey Mouse, made in the 1920s. This mouse features a brown velvet body and sports a pair of red felt shorts. When wound, his long, mechanical arms rotate, sending him tumbling head over feet! Advertisements for acrobatic windups from the late 19th century describe these toys as “exceedingly laughable and comical.” This little mouse sure knows how to put on a show!

Be sure to check out the museum’s collection of toys and other objects here .

Curators in Stitches

Two Indiana State Museum staffers spent the day at the Indiana State Fair judging in the Antique Quilts and Coverlets Division. Pictured is a great example of a blue and white quilt from 1915, signed and dated on the back.

How are quilts judged? Kathleen McLary, Indiana State Museum Exec. VP for Historic Sites (and quilt expert and author) noted that this particular Double Irish Chain-patterned quilt is in good, clean condition,  lies flat, is pieced well and shows little aging or yellowing. Mary Jane Teeters-Eichacker, Curator of Social History at the museum and textile expert, also commented that the quilt is just a great example of a 2-color quilt of that time.

But will it win a coveted Indiana State Fair ribbon? You’ll have to visit the Home and Family Arts Building at the Indiana State Fair, Aug. 7 through 23 to find out! You’ll be able to view hundreds and hundreds of handmade objects, in addition to this one quilt.

It is also worth noting that the Indiana State Museum houses the largest and best documented collection of Indiana Amish quilts in the world, The Pottinger Collection. It includes 443 quilts and hundreds of blocks, patterns, and associated Amish toys, dolls, clothing and household furnishings. There are hundreds of additional quilts in the Indiana State Museum collection, as well. You should come see them!

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