Small Talk Archive: August 2014

The War to End All Wars

painted metal toy soldiers WWI

One hundred years ago, the “war to end all wars” began. Now known as World War I (and not even close to the last world conflict), it would grow to involve 30 nations, 65 million soldiers, and 4 years of warfare. The war touched every aspect of life in the United States, including play.

Toy armies evolved from figures of men on horseback with bayonets to soldiers equipped with rifles and machine guns. In the 1930s, the United States-based Manoil Manufacturing Company began to produce metal toy soldiers. This painted soldier, known as a “tommy gunner,” holds modern weaponry and poses in a combat position. He is one of T/m’s many examples of toy soldiers that reflect the conflict in which they fought, even if it was just a battle of the imagination.

Preserving Historical Interiors

eugene kupjack

T/m’s miniature collection was greatly influenced by three spectacular commissions in the 1970s. We’ve already examined Queen Mary’s Doll House and Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, so now it’s time to examine the third: the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the 1920s, museums across the United States from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Detroit Institute of Arts were premiering full-scale period interiors. After traveling through Europe, Narcissa Thorne, daughter-in-law of the co-founder of Montgomery Ward and Company, dreamed of miniature rooms as a space-saving alternative to documenting, sharing, and preserving historical interiors.

Thorne began with 24 rooms that were exhibited to great acclaim between 1933 and 1940 at Chicago’s Century of Progress ExpositionSan Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition, and New York’s 1939-1940 World’s Fair. Over the years, she commissioned additional rooms for a total of 68 interiors spanning Europe from the late 13th century to the 1930s and America from the 17th century to the 1930s. They are now on view across the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago. We’ll be looking at some of the rooms in depth over time, but for now, check out this then-and-now postcard collection.

Photo: Mrs. James Ward Thorne. California Living Room, 1850-1875, c. 1940 The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

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