Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City Is A World-Class Museum With A Home Town Feel

The Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City
Not many things take me by surprise, but my recent visit to The Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City did just that.

When I decided to check out the museum, I pictured myself entering a small building filled with a boring collection of old, dusty toys and a few miniatures for viewing. 

I could not have been more wrong.  This facility is a world-class museum filled with more fascinating items than I could ever begin to describe.

First of all, the massive collection of priceless toys and miniatures is housed in the gorgeous 38-room Tureman Mansion, which was designed by architect John McKechnie and completed in 1911 for prominent Kansas City physician Dr. Herbert Tureman and his family.

Entering the Toy and Miniature Museum
The home sits majestically back from the street atop a hill on the western edge of the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) campus and has its own interesting history.

Nell Donnelly, wealthy owner of the Donnelly Garment Factory, and her husband were leasing the mansion in 1931 after Dr. Tureman passed away. 

On December 16 of that year, Donnelly and her chauffeur, George Blair, were kidnapped at gunpoint from the driveway of the home and held for ransom in Bonner Springs.  To everyone’s relief, both were rescued two days later with the help of James A. Reed, a local politician and attorney, and John Lazia, a Kansas City mob boss.

In 1966, UMKC became the owner of the Tureman Mansion when Marie Tureman passed away and left the home to the university. 

A View of Tureman Mansion From The Street
The Toy and Miniature Museum moved into the building in 1982 and has since expanded twice to its current size of 33,000 square feet.

The museum was created by Mary Harris Francis and Barbara Marshall.  Both women were avid collectors, but Francis liked collecting antique dollhouses while Marshall enjoyed miniatures. 

Eventually, their individual collections grew so large that they were urged to open a museum.  In 1979, they formed a not-for-profit foundation and the Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City was born.

Francis and Marshall also had assistance from Jerry Smith, who was a Kansas City Buick dealer before his retirement, and a passionate toy collector himself.  Many of his priceless toys and commercial pieces are also displayed within the museum’s walls.

When you enter the building, you are greeted by a docent.  This is nice because you get an idea of what you will be seeing and learn details about some of the museum’s oldest, most interesting, and most unusual pieces.

The toy collection, which spans the first and second floors of the mansion, includes one-of-a-kind antique dollhouses, mechanical toys, teddy bears, board games, child-sized kitchen and home appliances, furniture, foreign toys, specialized collections and much more.

The largest dollhouse in the museum, known as the Coleman House, stands nine feet tall and seven feet wide.  It originally belonged to the prominent Coleman family from Lebanon, Pennsylvania and appears to have had gas lighting and running water at one time. 

Georgiana is the oldest doll in the museum and dates back to the 1750s.  She is made of wood, has glass eyes, and even sports a wig made from human hair. 

As you walk from gallery to gallery, you slowly realize how many items are actually in the museum’s inventory.  There are collections of cars, trains, planes, circus toys and patriotic items, which include George and Martha Washington dolls along with a number of Uncle Sam collectibles. 

There is a room devoted to numerous Noah’s Arks with animals, a collection of toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians, jungle animals, tea sets, fire memorabilia, paper dolls, banks, churches – including a lovely wood church made by a German cabinet maker, a large grouping of Star Wars dolls and figures, which was the most successful movie-related toy line ever, and the list goes on.

Additionally, the museum houses one of the largest marble collections in the world.  An entire space is devoted to marble art, marble games, marble jewelry, marble contraptions, and drawers full of marbles of all sizes and designs for visitors to examine.

And if you are a Barbie fan, the museum has a special Barbie exhibit running through 2012.  In this gallery, you are able to view the very first Barbie and everything else Barbie you can imagine, including a Barbie dictionary, records, jewelry, purses, puzzles, and even Barbie dolls wearing gowns created by famous designers Vera Wang and Bob Mackie.

I learned a lot about Barbie by walking through this exhibit.  For example, did you know that Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, that her hometown is Willows, Wisconsin, that she is the oldest of seven siblings, and that she has had more than eighty careers since she was created in 1959?

In fact, Barbie has been such a sensation over the years that the Mattel Toy Company has used more than 105 million yards of fabric creating Barbie fashions, which makes them one of the largest apparel manufacturers in the world.

After you finish looking at all the toys in the museum, it is time to check out all the fascinating miniatures displayed on the first floor.

There are miniature homes complete with everything that you would find in a full-sized house.  There are tiny instruments, books, jewelry, cameras, clocks, needlepoint pieces, paintings, animals and everything else you can imagine.

What I found most interesting about the miniature area of the museum was the room lined with microscopes.  When you look into each of the microscopes, you are able to see miniature pieces that you can barely distinguish with your naked eye  - such as intricate designs created on the head of a straight pin. 

Also in the miniature section of the museum is a film showing how artists create their tiny pieces of art and a small display that shows you step by step how a miniature violin is created and pieced together.

Overall, there are so many items to look at in the Toy and Miniature museum that it is truly hard to take it all in at one time. 

You should know that if you leave before seeing everything, the museum allows you to return the same day with your paid admission receipt and reenter at no charge, which I actually recommend.

You can spend the morning enjoying the huge toy collection.  Then, take a break and head to one of the nearby yummy Plaza restaurants for lunch. 

After you have given your brain a break and made your stomach happy, return to the museum in the afternoon ready to absorb the magnificence of the miniature collection on display.

While in the museum, be sure to also check out the fireplaces and beautiful woodwork in several of the rooms.  This gives you an idea of how opulent the museum was when it was a private residence.

At the end of your day at the museum, if you are still wanting more, there is a fun gift shop to look through which contains toys, trinkets, jewelry, dolls and more for you to purchase.

A Giant Windup Bear on the Lawn of the Museum
Note that the Toy and Miniature Museum does not allow photos, a guide can be arranged for tour groups, it is not a good place to take young kids, and kids under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Ticket prices are $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time students, $5 for children 5-12, and free for children under 5, museum members, and students, faculty and staff of UMKC.

The Toy and Miniature Museum is located at 5235 Oak and is open Wednesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.  They are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

1 comment:

  1. nice, precise article on the Toy Museum. I think you should redo the current Kansas City guide book, it needs a re-haul and you may be the woman to do it. Bravo