The history of toys can tell us much about the history of people and culture. And by this logic, Toy Stories reveals a pattern of improvisation, experimentation and ingenuity in Western Australia over the last century.
Curator Sarah Toohey has assembled an eclectic and often eccentric collection that both encapsulates and expands the idea of what we consider a toy. The exhibition features both contemporary toys and some that date back as far as the 1920s, all made by Western Australian artisans. And many of the most fascinating works were made in relatively amateur circumstances. “The early toys from the farming areas are all improvised,” says Toohey. “They made use of the materials at hand: knuckle-bones, matches, undyed wool, bits of wood and nails. They have that distinctive, makeshift country-Australia quality.”
In particular, Toohey also emphasises the recent work of Noongar dollmakers Geri Hayden and Yolande Ward-Yarran, who “continue a long tradition of Aboriginal women making dolls.” Other celebrated makers in Toy Stories include the late David Gregson (one of Western Australia’s most well-known painters, whose work here is a ship made for his nephew when Gregson was 17), Barry Tyrie, Theo Koning, and Clem Bond, the latter of whose two-metre Meccano Eiffel Tower is a literal high point.
A key priority in Toy Stories is showing the ornate, sophisticated and contemporary alongside the untrained and the obsolete—many of the older toys in the show might qualify as folk art. “I hope people agree that there is a lot to these simple objects,” says Toohey. “They’re about creativity, making-do, enterprise, experimentation and love, among other things. I hope the exhibition reminds people of the toys of their childhood and the pleasure of play.”
This article was originally published in the January/February 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.