The not so flat world of paper dolls

We may be way beyond the golden age of paper dolls, but their enduring presence over centuries does not lie. They are fun, engaging for toddlers, and usually affordable for parents. Today, we owe their survival more to book publishers and artisans than toy makers. It can be tricky to navigate through what is on the market, if you are mindful of stereotypes, diversity and body image issues that can arise. In our opinion, Dansereau by Dominique Dansereau and Paper Thin Personas by Rachel Cohen offer the best commercial options.

Better yet, say Kelly Burstow of Be A Fun Mom, make your own, from family photos. Use your photo cutout to draw a silhouette and create a paper wardrobe. Drawing them is also so simple. Making a paper doll brings a fine opportunity to draw, cut and manipulate images and to stimulate imagination for family story telling.

There is of course the long history of paper dolls and a vast vintage market out there, for history buffs and collectors. Paper dolls and the fashion industry are inseparable. For this reason, like their 3D cousins, paper dolls too carry a long history of woman’s body representation and gender roles. For a brief women’s perspective on the history of this “innocent” toy, see this documented articles published in 2016 on the (American) National Women’s History Museum website.

On the contemporary arts scene for grownups, it is impossible to ignore the life size realistic works by New York artist October Lane. The Paper Doll Project makes you think and will serve as an excellent helper to parents with teens.

Clothing in color sample. Source: Dansereau.co, 23 Janurary 2022.

Miniature art, big time!

With the successive imposition of lockdowns and access restrictions during the pandemic, artists and other creative people are rediscovering the charms of tiny art. Reports about free little galleries or FLAG, have proliferated in the past year. The Seattle Met, the Washington Post (twice), TimeOut, Urbanicity, the CBC, the Toronto Star, even the Smithsonian Magazine have all showed interest in little galleries.

According to these reports, FLAGs are already thriving across the United States in Seattle, Portland, Austin, Oakland, Phoenix Atlanta, Washington D.C., Brooklyn, Hyattsville, as well as in Edmonton and more recently Hamilton, Canada. Artist and self-proclaimed FLAG tracker Elaine Luther has spotted some in Sweden, Polan and Mexico. She created a website to help us follow the expansion of the empire.

This growing phenomenon is good news for artists. It provides a much needed outlet for their works and also a way to reach out to a diverse audience, both locally and online. It is also good news for kids and for community spirit, because it is inclusive of all sorts of works, as long as it fits the space, and everyone can leave or take a piece of their art. It is the same exchange system as the well-known free little library network.

Washington State artists are definitely leading the trend. Stacy Milrani was one of the first to launch and now seemingly has one of the busiest FLAG. Sculptor Jennyfer McNeely took the adventure to new dimensions with the creation of fictional curator Margaret Supperfield, a doll with her own Instagram account. As for long time professional doll maker, Katy Strutz, the appeal of free little galleries was irresistible.

Interestingly, this newly found passion in miniature art comes at a time when, at the supersize end of the spectrum, so called immersive art is also taking off. Now attracting renowned large museum institutions, immersive shows of images by Van Gogh, Klimt, Schiele, Klee and also contemporary artists are scheduled in places likes Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto, Bordeau, Dubai, Shangai, Macao and Tokyo. These events use new technologies to attract new audiences to visual arts and boost tourism. Bea Mitchell’s top 11 list in her Blooloop article is enough to appreciate the contrast this is compared to miniature art.

Miniature art has long been part of major historical collections. It also never left the contemporary art scene, even if it had not been considered blockbuster by large institutions, with big buildings. The Biennale Internationale d’Art Miniature (BIAM) has presented miniature works in the small northern town of Ville-Marie, Quebec for 30 years. More than 10 countries were represented last summer. Across the pond, in Paris, visitors have a few more days to visit the Small is Beautiful exhibition. At this event by Encore Productions and Fever, 20 artists present their miniature works, and children can take part in miniature art workshops.

Pictured below is the latest free little gallery that just opened its tiny door in Hamilton, Canada. As I visited it with a limited edition contribution of my own, a local artist was already there with her own contribution. An initiative by art teacher Matt Coleman, the Mappleside Museum of Miniature Art (MMoMA) is however a bit of a misnomer. We get the pun of the acronym, but a museum usually has a collection conservation mandate, as well as educational programs, while a gallery shows art for trading purpose. The MMoMA is actually a free little gallery.

Broom with a view

We collect items that are very much part of the day to day lives of young families around the world. For this reason, it is natural for us to admire those collectors and curators who do the same. Near the city of Jodhpur in Western Rajasthan (India), Arna Jharna: The Thar Museum is doing just that by collecting and curating Jhadus or brooms.

The museum was founded in 2000, by late folklorist Komal Kothari. It displays 180 types of brooms, according to Supriya Newar‘s thorough article on Live History India. Simple objects provide amazing insights and the brooms helps visitors to explore the stories of the people of Rajasthan, their working and spiritual lives, as well as their natural surroundings. Another article by Chelsea Santos, Assistant Curator at The City Palace Museum of Udaipur, brings us closer to the Arna Jharna museum. It is published on mainlymuseums.com.

In 2016, the picturesque Musée Calbet in Grisolle (France) had also celebrated the broom in a special exhibition, from a different source and perspective.

Brooms at the Arna Jharna Museum, with tags that mention geographic location and name. Photo: Chelsea Santos. Source: MainlyMuseums.com, 30 October 2021.

Blob post

It may have taken hundreds of millions of years, but the blob is finally reaching its long overdue fame, at the highest level. A blob has joined the International Space Station crew last month. Its reaction to a micro-gravity environment is under scientific scrutiny. Find out about the educational scope of the experiment in this short cnet.com article by Leslie Katz.

Many of us who love to draw, have of course had more than one encounter with the blob. The fun colorful two-dimensional one, that is. While you keep a curious eye on the ISS experiment with the yellow creature, revisit the many drawing resources about blob art on the web. Teachers will appreciate this Blob-Art Challenge presented by MarieLee Singoorie Trempe, on Pinnguaq. If you are more the hyperrealist type, make sure to see this Stephanie Villiotis’ article “How to draw a realistic blob of paint..” on Make A Mark Studios. We will definitely add some of these instructional video to our playlists. Marvel Comics’ Blob must be so proud!

Blob, by Audrey Dussutour / CRCA / CNRS. Source: CNRS.fr, 11 september 2021.

News from @macairesmuse

Like thousands of people around the world, we discovered and followed their creative journey, when the first global lockdown hit home. Macaire’s chalk art on the family driveway brought solace to so many. Camden, her younger brother and muse made sure we identified to each lively scene of imaginary travel. The siblings had initially planned 100 “frescos”, but the series kept growing. Last spring they published not one, but two books. The second book is titled Cam and Hopper travel the world. It includes fewer images than the first, but they are more polished. That is because Macaire sort of brought the driveway indoor in order to spend more time on each drawing. The process still ended with the photo session outdoor. Macaire also added poetry to her toolbox and a haiku poem matches each image.

Macaire and Camden took some time off their busy back-to-school schedule, and told us a bit about an important drawing on paper. Macaire made it when she was Camden’s age. It portrays both of them side by side under a swirly rainbow. It was a family favorite, got framed and preserved to this day. Last year, it inspired an enlarged chalk version, became the 101st celebratory work and made it in the first book. Two words for these two: BRAVO and THANKS.

Sharp turn

Sometimes, inspiration just keeps quiet. You are in front of a blank sheet of paper and have no idea what to draw. You can always scribble and see what comes out. Or you can leave it alone and make a sharp turn. Take a pencil sharpener and just sharpen your pencils to the very last. Let a pencil sharpener save the day.

Of all the groovy collections out there, pencil sharpener collections will not fail to make you smile, even if all the muses of inspiration have abandoned you. We picked two of special interest for you to enjoy.

Sharpenking is a collectible commercial venture based in Wassenaar, Netherlands. They hold hundreds of items, buy and resell, as well as maintain a network of fellow collectors. Their Spanish Knights series display some mighty blades. The other collection does not have its own website that we know of. It shows up online as a road-side attraction by the regional tourism office, and also in many videos made by its visitors (like this one by Hoosier Boo). The Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum is a tiny cabin at the foot of the Appalachians in Logan, Ohio. Family and friends of the late Rev. Johnson maintain this display of nearly 3,500 items that he collected over twenty years.

Pencil sharpener and pencil, 2010, by Alexander Klink. Source: commons.wikimedia.org, 16 August 2021.

City mouse and country mouse

The Great Divide may be a song, it may also be a long trail in the Canadian Rockies, but surely the urban living vs country living divide is just as great. The cultural disparity between the two, not only precedes industrialization, in the time of de la Fontaine, it is probably as old as cities themselves, within long lost civilizations. A few enduring, current and developing events make it worthwhile asking ourselves what it will be like for children, growing up in cities or in the country side, during this century.

Worldwide urbanization has been an ongoing trend for generations and has also been accelerating, along with mass production and population growth. “By 2050, with the urban population more than doubling its current size, nearly 7 of 10 people in the world will live in cities” according to the World Bank, in 2020. The emergence of slogans like “Farmers feed cities” or “Farm to table, buy local” or “Stop urban sprawl” indicates that the relationship between city and country dwellers is evolving. We should probably add suburbanites to the mix, since they have had such an impact on the expansion of car culture and the undermining of urban cores as inhabitable spaces.

Two current events may signal that we can now contemplate with fresh eyes, the aforementioned irreversible trend. One is the scare COVID-19 gave to city dwellers, imposing on many to work remotely from home. It remains to be seen what percentage will continue to work from home, but some have already chosen to adopt this new lifestyle, and even left the city for less densely populated areas. This, coupled with the limited access to cities by country dwellers, exacerbates another issue that has long been denounced by rural citizens: lagging internet connectivity and poor bandwidth access. Small town folks have long decried the inequitable connectivity that they endured for too long. It is predictable that ex-urbanites will not accept losing it, no matter how far from the city they move, and work. As recently as last April, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) said that “since the pandemic started, rural speeds have been between one-fifth and one-tenth urban speeds (…) rural download speeds hovered around 5.5 Mbps, compared to roughly 50 Mbps in urban Canada.” Canadians already pay more for their communication service, than consumers in similar countries.

Sign of the time maybe, a group of young Canadian women have taken upon themselves to help students coming from remote areas to have better access to urban institutions, without losing their roots and identities. Meet the Foundation for Rural Youth Empowerment (FRYE). It is not uncommon to see rural youth abandon their studies and return home from a large centre. This brave group takes upon itself to breakdown barriers this population face. A mirror group for city youth who are foreign to the rural experience, would be a good idea. Just saying.

We should probably expect a new urban-suburb-country dynamic, with renewed cultural experiences, from now on. It looks like while the cities adapt in post-pandemic, so will everyone else outside the cities. This can prove to be quite interesting to watch, as far as intergenerational harmony or conflicts go. Soon, the urbanite’s weekend escapade from the city to cottage country, and the villager’s photo-safari in the city, might all tell a different story. It is even possible that these two worlds merge into one, at last.

Town mouse and country mouse, illustration by Milo Winter, in Aesop for children, 1919. Source: Gutenberg.org, 28 June 2021.

Artful mindfulness

Counteracting prejudices and discrimination is a serious and urgent matter that should concern each and everyone of us. But we are not yet out of this dreadful global pandemic, and many of us feel saturated with “serious and urgent.” So be it. There are ways to challenge prejudices and discrimination in colorful and playful ways. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) came up with a great educational tool, that will delight anyone who is fond of animated colors on the screen. Titled The Bias Inside Us, this project will tour the USA until at least 2023. It addresses crucial issues for our times, in a most engaging and accessible way. Enjoy, and tell us what you think with a drawing.

The Bias Inside Us, website banner. Source: Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, 18 June 2021.

The culture we nurture

One of the motivations for establishing our Collection, was to contribute engaging curatorial practices to conversations about cultural development. We hope that through our efforts, children have a greater say in where we are heading collectively, through their own cultural contributions. This blog entry is about culture and the underlying question “What do you make of children’s culture or culture itself for that matter?”

The current pandemic, and subordinate recession, already have profound psychological effects and will impact our cultural environment for years, maybe generations to come. The global crisis is challenging the nations’ ability to cooperate, and at the same time is triggering all sorts of antisocial impulses, while exposing many inequalities and systemic shortcomings.

During the past twenty five year or so, the notion of a culture specific to children has made its way in fields such as social psychology and anthropology. It is debatable whether the concept of “culture” should be attributed to children socializing and building common knowledge together. Even if we admit that such a culture is a fact of life, we can argue at length how autonomous from the surrounding multigenerational culture it really is. Still, how today’s children see themselves and the society in which they grow up during these circumstances, is something all of us should pay close attention to.

Before we can visit far away relatives again, re-orient our professional life, retire earlier than initially planed, or go on a leisure trip, let’s take a moment to think about what culture means to us. Assess for yourself how inclusive of children your culture is and could become. Explore in depth what professor Lawrence A. Hirschfeld says on the subject, in his stimulating article The Rutherford Atom of Culture (Journal of Cognition and Culture, 2018, p.231-261) We find him quite apropos when he says that “cultural life may demand that we hone new psychological tools to account for a kind of existence that is not individual difference writ large but literally foreign to the psychological toolbox.” Professor Hirschfeld’s articles are available online at ResearchGate, as well as OpenEditions Journals. He teaches at the Departments of Psychology and Anthropology, New School of Social Research (New York City).

Rutherford Atom, by CBurnett. Source: Wikimedia.com, 24 May 2021.

News from the driveway

The long title of this post is: Great news from Macaire’s worldly driveway. Indeed Macaire Everett and her muse brother Camden make the news again this Spring 2021, by publishing an amazing book, filled with more than 120 full page photos of chalk drawings by Macaire.

The book The world from our driveway (on Amazon) depicts the journey of two siblings facing the imperative remote learning, imposed by the pandemic. With its behind the scene section, the book shows how what started as a home remedy against boredom, turned into a family and community effort for promoting resilience and bringing smiles and joy around the world.

Macaire had largely shared her work digitally on social media. One of our earlier posts last Summer linked to her busy Instagram. It is such a relief that Macaire’s work, though ephemeral by design, can be preserved on paper. Maybe the driveway itself will some day receive a heritage site designation from UNESCO. And we are only half kidding, because we heard that museums around the world are racing to document life during this pandemic.

The compositions are so inspired and engaging, that picking a favorite is mission impossible. With Mothers’ Day coming up, see Macaire’s touching birthday drawing to her mother. It will melt your heart. For us at the Collection, if we had to pick one, it would the one titled We are all in this together. Not only is it a propos because of the pandemic, it is also one for which Macaire digged into her own personal archives, and in which she staged herself with her muse. In this image more than in all the other ones, personal and universal appeals come together and come full circle.

The world from our driveway, back cover. By Macaire Everett. Source: Amazon.ca, 4 May 2021.