30 years of the Toy and Miniature Museum…

Photo by Brad Austin.
Peeking into the Art Deco Jewelry Store replica is a chance to look at incredibly detailed and equally tiny perfection. Photo by Brad Austin.

The Art Deco movement started in the 1925 and declined with the start of World War II. The style is defined by ornamental sun-rays, zigzag patterns, machines and fast thin lines. The design is often linked with high fashion, jewelry and architecture. Move more than 85 years into the 21st century and a revival of sorts will be on display after Thanksgiving.

The Toy and Miniature Museum’s 30th anniversary begins with the unveiling of the Art Deco Jewelry Store, a stunning new miniature acquisition opening to the public for the very first time Nov. 23. The store is also the last commissioned piece from co-founder Barbara Marshall. Visitors can also participate in an interactive jazz program with pianist Carol Comer, who has offered her expertise to Kansas City Young Audiences, and get dressed for the occasion with a do-it-yourself flapper headband or a dapper fedora.

Museum educator Laura Taylor and Executive Director Jamie Berry see this anniversary year as a step into the future while honoring the past with Marshall, Mary Harris Francis and the founding families. “We have entered our adulthood. The next steps in this museum life are important and have to be managed carefully.” Berry says not all museums even survive their adolescence so 30 years is worth celebrating.

Margaret Silva, Marshall’s daughter, is excited to share the new piece. “It’s just a particularly wonderful piece,” she says. “Mom so loved commissioning a piece that represented the very best. I grew up knowing that you sought out the best. The Art Deco Jewelry store is that breathtaking piece and it is so special to me.”

The Art Deco Jewelry Store reflects Marshall’s stylistic preferences within her art form. “She made sure the best artists were employed in making these collectibles,” Berry says. “The museum doesn’t have a lot of pieces that represent the 20th century and this Art Deco time period. It’s considered modern and really speaks to me as a way to signify our new era just as it signified the new era in the world as people were electrifying their houses and traveling abroad.”

Curator Kristie Dobbins demonstrates just how miniature the dolls are by inserting her hand into the replica. Photo by Brad Austin.

Looking at the store, it’s apparent that several artists put forth their best and their expertise to create the tiny replica.

Artists include Susan Rogers and Kevin Mulvany, miniature artists whose work reflects historic reconstruction in incredible interiors; chandeliers by Robert Ward; jewelry by Lori Ann Potts that include precious and semiprecious stones; and porcelain dolls by Maria Jose Santos. Kansas City artist William R.

Robertson, who has had an association with the Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City, will have work visible as well. “It was a world effort to get this store completed,” Berry says. “It’s a two-story room with stamped silver on the doors to the elevator and a gilded ceiling. All the little details are just incredible.”

Silva says her mother always loved the creative process and even when she was working at Hallmark, she got to know the artists, not just the art. “She wanted to nurture talent. When someone puts their heart and soul into an artistic endeavor, you cherish the piece a little more.”

The exquisite creation is the last commissioned work from The Toy & Miniature Museum co-founder Barbara Marshall. Photo by Brad Austin.

Silva says she sees the museum staff as a smart, talented group of people who can move things in a positive direction just as she does with her own gallery, Grand Arts. “You have to give artists a chance to grow and share with the greater community. The staff also represents talent.”

Kansas City’s own love affair with Art Deco can be seen in the Power & Light Building, Hotel Phillips and the Community Christian Church on the Plaza that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. “Kansas City has such a strong tradition,” Taylor says. “It’s great to celebrate it.”

While the community can treasure the visual appeal of the Art Deco jewelry store soon, the museum staff and board will continue its march forward into becoming a leading museum. Berry says the board wants to see the museum shift into the community with greater recognition. The Toy & Miniature Museum of Kansas City started because of a shared love of collecting. Mary Harris Francis, an avid collector of dollhouses, and Marshall, who made her first of many miniature purchases in the 1950s, formed a non-profit in 1979 and in 1982, the museum opened its doors. Initially the women’s private collections were on display, but over the years, the museum now boasts the largest collection of toys and miniatures in the Midwest, including the world’s largest collection of marbles.

The museum’s advancement will help the survivability, Berry says. “The collection really is so approachable. We just have to continue facilitating the community interaction with the exhibits. Then the next trick is to get the generations to have conversations. When I have talked to Barbara, there is a sense of wonder that she still has. That sense of wonder and discovery spills over into the museum.”

Scott Francis praises the museum for the ability to build a fabric of life that is better through connections with the past. “The tendency today is to become isolated from history, family and community. It’s really unhealthy mentally and physically to be alone. Simply put The Toy and Miniature Museum can knit together generations. We are also becoming more educational in our programming. There is a move to rotate the exhibitions and better explain the objects. We are working to maintain the integrity of my mother’s collection as well as Barbara’s while looking at editing some. We want to show the best of the best within this eclectic range.” Silva says the museum is a place to be inspired. “It’s a place to see how children played over the decades. However, it’s also a place to take care of a unique collection.”

The Toy and Miniature Museum co-founders Barbara Marshall and Mary Harris Francis in a picture from the early years of the museum.

Berry says the changes include building community membership and donors. “We know that more than 25 museums like ours have closed. When we hear news like that, we are saddened, but also resolved to continue our pursuit to improve.” Taylor says she has already started adding more educational way-finders and even more interpretation throughout the museum. The educational nuggets allow the museum goer to understand even more of the collection. “We want to increase visitors’ satisfaction. Questions come from a place of knowledge so it is our due diligence to help craft answers,” she says. Taylor also wants to see more multigenerational discussions. “Adults who were kids in 1982 are bringing their kids into the museum now. We are part of the community fabric.” During the holidays, the Coleman doll house will be open Dec. 1. There will also have storytelling from Father Christmas and music.

Berry says the museum staff is moving toward national accreditation in the next five years from the American Association of Museums. “We want to expand our presence nationally. We want to fill in the gaps in our collection.” For more than a year, several museum graduates have been photographing and cataloguing the vast collection. “The collection spans around 1850 to 1920,” Taylor says. “While a larger percentage is on display, there are many pieces in storage.”

Berry says the goal is to not only be seen as a place to see toy collections, but as a place for art. “These are objects of fine art,” she says. “We have a momentum pushing us forward into a promising future.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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