The wildly inventive toys on display in "Playing Around: Toys Designed by Artists," opening June 3 at the Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary’s College, hearken back to the days before plastic and mass production, when all toys were handmade and, whether simple or elaborate, engaged the imagination of both maker and user. Toys date back thousands of years and allow us to reflect on societal values through the lives and play activities of children.In the early 1970s, the Arkansas Arts Center Museum initiated an annual exhibition of toys designed by artists. Inspired by Alexander Calder’s circus figures of the late 1920s and early 1930s, this annual exhibition was launched to stimulate the imagination of both children and adults and to engage them with toys of whimsy, delight, and good craftsmanship. Over the past 30 years, the museum has acquired works from the exhibition.
"Playing Around" features 50 of the best and most interesting pieces from the collection. The toys vary in theme, materials, and utility, and many are functional. Some wind up, while others work like the automatons popular in the first half of the 20th century. Some toys are made from found objects; others are meticulously crafted from clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood.
One of the artists, Jim Bartz, will perform with his band at the opening reception on Sunday, June 4, at 2 p.m. Bartz received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Chouinard Art School in Los Angeles, now Cal Arts. The artist designs and makes fanciful clog doll toy sculptures that function as both musical instruments and dancing figures to accompany authentic American, Irish, and Cajun fiddle tunes played on handmade and vintage instruments. A reception will follow from 3 to 4:30 p.m.
"The Clog Frog Review"
Sunday, 2 to 3 p.m., June 4, Soda Activity Center
Reception following lecture, Art Room 105
A musical performance by Jim Bartz and the Limberjim Bartz Band featuring American, Irish, and Cajun fiddle tunes played on handmade and vintage instruments. After the performance, audience members will be able to try out some of the instruments and will receive a template and instructions for making a Clog Frog toy-instrument.
The musical performance and reception are free with the $2 exhibition admission donation; members and their guests receive free admission.
Playing Around has been organized by Alan DuBois, Curator of Decorative Arts at the Arkansas Arts Center. The exhibition is toured by ExhibitsUSA, a division of Mid-America Arts Alliance, a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1972.