From Hula Hoops to Slinky: Toy show has people playing — and remembering

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Who doesn’t love toys?

The “Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s” exhibit at the Minnesota History Center has its own spoken-word soundtrack. Walk in, stand almost anywhere, close your eyes, and you’ll hear it from others enjoying the toys: “I remember this … I had this … I wanted that.

The History Center is all about looking back at where we’ve come from, the better to understand where we are, but “Toys” is special. Nostalgia suffused with innocence and precise personal memories, it’s common ground for the generations, because who doesn’t love toys? On Black Friday, the big space on the third floor was packed with parents, grandparents and kids running around. We were there for over an hour and nobody cried or threw a tantrum.

If you grew up during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, or you had children during that time, these are toys you know: Slinky and Barbie and G.I. Joe, Lionel trains and Hot Wheels, NERF balls, Lincoln Logs, Easy-Bake Ovens, Chatty Cathy and Mr. Potato Head, Star Wars action figures, Trouble and Mouse Trap and Cootie games, chemistry sets and Play-Doh kits, Pet Rocks and banana-seat bikes. Some you can play with; there’s a NERF Ball court, a supply of Hula Hoops, a giant dollhouse and a Slinky staircase. Others you’ll wish you’d held onto, instead of leaving them at your parents’ home when you moved out and learning later that your siblings had taken them or your parents had tossed them in the trash or sold them at yard sales … but we digress.

Many of the 450 items in the exhibit are from the History Center’s collections, several come from private collectors, and some have Minnesota roots. Twister was invented by St. Paul advertising man Reyn Guyer, Cootie by Herb Schaper of Minneapolis. Kenner, Parker Brothers and Spirograph were all once part of General Mills’ toy division. Minneapolis’ Lakeside Toys made the bendy Gumby and Pokey figures. Tonka trucks were born at Mound Metalcraft near Lake Minnetonka, which later changed its name to Tonka Toys. (Overheard near the big Tonka trucks: “Yeah, I remember a lot of pinched fingers.”)

One fun fact from the show: Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son. John Lloyd Wright visited Tokyo in 1916, when construction was under way on his dad’s Imperial Hotel. Wright senior had designed the hotel with an interlocking beam structure to stand up to earthquakes. As John watched massive timbers being lifted and stacked, inspiration struck. He later sold Lincoln Logs to Playskool.

Catch “Toys” while you can; it closes Jan. 4. During the final week, the exhibit is open extended hours including most evenings. Entry is included with museum admission; through Dec. 21, donate a toy and admission is free

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We’re crazy about Patricia Kopatchinskaya. The barefoot Moldovan violinist, one of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s three new artistic partners, wowed sold-out crowds for two weekends during her seven-concert SPCO debut. We were lucky to attend her very first performance, at Temple Israel in Minneapolis, and expect that will give us bragging rights for years as she becomes a superstar.

Her playing was passionate and self-assured, full of energy and emotion. She’s an intensely physical performer, bending and swaying, stamping her feet, tossing her hair and flinging her bow, yet she doesn’t seem in the least bit mannered or pretentious. Rather, she plays as if no one is watching. She wore a red silk gown like it was any old thing, seemed surprised by our standing ovations, and hugged many of her fellow musicians, who hugged her back.

The program we heard – which included music by Mozart, Bartok, Mendelssohn, fiery Moldavan folk tunes performed with her musician parents, and the U.S. premiere of Tigran Mansurian’s Second Concerto, with notes so high they rose up through the roof and into the night – was diverse and exceedingly colorful. We can’t wait for her return in March (mark your calendar: March 27 and 28), when she’ll rock the new Ordway Concert Hall. 

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News you might have missed during Artscape’s break last week:

Allan Kornblum, poet, editor, master of the letterpress (printing books by hand) and founder of Coffee House Press in Minneapolis, has died at 65. Coffee House had its beginnings as Toothpaste Press in Iowa City in the early 1970s; after Kornblum and his family relocated to Minneapolis, the name was changed to Coffee House in 1984. It always sounded like the kind of place – small and friendly, but serious – where you could send your manuscript and someone would actually read it, and handle it with care.

Kornblum led Coffee House to prominence by championing new voices, including many women and members of minority groups, and producing thoughtfully designed and beautifully crafted books. Among its many successes were Carleton graduate Karen Tei Yamashita’s “I Hotel,” a finalist for a 2010 National Book Award, and Ron Padgett’s “How Long,” a finalist for a 2012 Pulitzer.

Kornblum was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006 and left his position as Coffee House publisher in 2011 but kept editing and consulting until his death. Current publisher Chris Fischbach worked for and with Kornblum for almost 20 years and considers him a father figure. Jeff Rathermel, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, said in a statement, “A leading light in the literary community, Allan built his world, and ours, around the penned and printed word. His joy of literature, his skill at the press, and his passion for writers and readers was unmatched.”

Kornblum is survived by his wife of 42 years, Cinda, and their two daughters, Gwen and Annabel. A public memorial will be held early next year.   

Kevin Ramach, the Minnesota Opera’s president and general director, has resigned. Ramach spent several years with the opera beginning in 1988, holding a number of positions and eventually becoming president and general director. “This is a good time for me to return to my creative interests,” Ramach said in a statement. “For virtually all of my career … I was involved in the direct creation of opera, from which I frequently felt removed as a general director.”

Nina Archabal, former director of the Minnesota Historical Society, was named interim general director. Archabal is also chair of the Schubert Club’s board. The Minnesota Opera and the Schubert Club are both part of the Arts Partnership, four organizations (with the SPCO and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts) that share the Ordway.

The Picks

Opens tonight at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton: “Mother Mary Come to Me: 400 Years of Stories and Symbols.” Images of the Virgin Mary, from a 16th-century Madonna and Child to mass-produced Guadalupe nightlights. The opening night reception includes a discussion with artists Xilam Bilam and Rebekah Crisanta of Electric Machete Studios and Johan van Parys, director of liturgy and sacred arts at the Basilica of St. Mary. In the Bigelow Chapel and Classroom Galleries. 5-7 p.m. Free, with registration requested.

Tonight on your teevee: “American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered.” The life and legend of an iconic performer, told through never-before-seen home movies, Dictabelt recordings, photos, and more from Crosby’s personal and professional archives and new interviews with all surviving members of his immediate family. 7 p.m. on TPT. FMI.

Tonight at the U’s Elmer L. Andersen Library: The Mystery of Writing with Mary Logue. The author of the popular Claire Watkins mysteries, set in the Lake Pepin area, talks about what sparks her creativity. Room 120. 7 p.m. Free, with reservations requested.

Wednesday at the Quarter Gallery in the U’s Regis Center for Art (East): Public reception for “Interruptions: Posters from the Community Arts Project Archive.” A group exhibition of handmade anti-apartheid posters from Capetown, South Africa. 4:30-6 p.m. Free.

Thursday at Northrop: Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Balanchine’s last muse started her own company in 2000. Accompanied by a full live orchestra – a very big deal in dance these days – they’ll perform Balanchine’s one-act “Swan Lake,” his “Allegro Brillante,” set to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert (or The Perils of Everybody”), set to music by Chopin. FMI and tickets ($44–$74). A free performance preview at 6:15 in the Best Buy Theater will feature Farrell and ballet mistress Kristen Gallagher.

Opens Friday on the Park Square’s proscenium stage: “2 Pianos 4 Hands.” Ted (Peter Vitale) and Richard (Michael Pearce Donley of “Triple Espresso” fame) share the same goal: They want to be stars of the concert piano. This enormously entertaining, not at all Christmassy show follows them from boyhood through adulthood as they study, practice, play, deal with stage fright and dream of greatness, all while playing two grand pianos. We saw this in 2012 and loved it. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($38-$58). Through Dec. 28.

Holiday Fare

We’ve heard that tickets are tight to this year’s “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at the Children’s Theater, and that Natalie Tran steals the show as Cindy-Lou Who. We saw her play the part in 2012, when she was a tiny but enchanting 7 years old. Now that she’s 9, watch out, world. Peter Brosius directs; Reed Sigmund is the Grinch. The show runs 1 hour 35 min. with one 15-minute intermission. FMI and tickets.

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