Hidden Gem Known as The Toy & Miniature Museum Ready to Shine

What does a miniature playable harpsichord, a room full of marbles, an 1885 dollhouse and a Barbie exhibit have in common? They are featured items shown as part of a community-building initiative at the Toy & Miniature Museum, 5235 Oak St., Kansas City. Unfortunately, recent survey work conducted by Jane Mobley Associates indicates both a lack of knowledge about the Toy & Miniature Museum as well as perception issues surrounding what the museum offers. To rectify this, Executive Director Jamie Berry, Curator Kristie Dobbins, Museum Educator Laura Taylor, Operations Manager Sandi Russell and other volunteers like Barbie collector Connie White are sharing the joys of this 28-year-old museum.

Mary Harris Francis, an avid collector of dollhouses, and Barbara Marshall, who made her first of many miniature purchases in the 1950s, were often teased by Mary Harris’ mother for having collections so large, they should start a museum … and that’s exactly what they did. In 1979, the women formed a not-for-profit corporation. Three years later, the Toy & Miniature Museum opened its doors. Francis’ son, Scott Francis, says the museum still unfortunately is a hidden treasure. Berry says that she and the staff wants to build a community around the museum and become pertinent to the area. “The quality of the collections here are among the finest in the world.”

The 38 rooms full of miniatures and toys from the past may help re-engage visitors with their childhood and a sense of wonder, Berry says. Annually, about 28,000 people visit, but with more and more metropolitan and regional exposure, those numbers could increase as well as some expansion in programming.

Taylor took visitors to see a model 17th century harpsichord, crafted by Johannes Landman. Landman, who is more known for his 1:12 scale oil paintings that include portraits and still life images, also creates some three-dimensional work. “The questions people ask are such as ‘why would an artist create something in such small details?’ ‘What materials did they use?’ The trick in the future will be to get patrons closer to see the details. Hopefully we can soon improve lighting, labels and magnification,” she says.

Dobbins says the museum has about 300,000 pieces that provide windows to the past. “The knowledge here is so fun. There is history. You can see what technology existed at the time or what values were stressed, merely through these toys. She talked about the Nettie Wells dollhouse, built in 1885. “We hope the pieces here spark a conversation among friends and family when they visit. However, with 90 percent of the collection on display, we have to watch preservation while hopefully telling an even fuller story.”

Russell started full time in 1985. She shared some of the history about the marble collection of Cathy and Larry Svacina, who were collectors for years. The museum even hosted a marble tournament, trying to beat the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of people playing Ringer. “There is a renaissance of marble playing. Marbles are a valuable part of history.”

One of the special exhibits, “Celebrating 50 Fabulous Years with America’s Favorite Doll,” is still going strong and will be extended through at least the spring of 2011. Dr. Connie White, associate professor of General Dentistry, shares her impressive collection of Barbie dolls at the museum. “If there had been no museum, I never would have been able to share my treasures and my memories. This is my chance to give back.”

The twice monthly events called “Fun 101: The Toy & Miniature Museum in an Hour” allows friends, business leaders and other civic-minded individuals to learn about the museum and what is offered to the community. The next couple of events are 8-9 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 26; 7-8 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 9; and 8- 9 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 16.


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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