The Orange County Historical Museum staff doesn’t want only grown-ups or serious history aficionados to stop by their collection. Museum staff want to bring kids in, too, and their new exhibition, “Let’s Play!: Children’s Toys and Games” aims to do exactly that.
“There are so many families around Hillsborough,” Orange County Historical Museum Executive Director Stephanie Pryor said. “We primarily draw older visitors, but with this exhibition, we want to show those with young kids that they’re welcome here, too.”
The exhibition kicked off on Friday and features toys and games from local collectors. The whimsical objects range from a vintage Cabbage Patch Doll to antique trains to a storied Raggedy Andy, with the oldest item in the collection being a porcelain doll crafted in 1890.
The exhibition was brought to fruition by Pryor and the museum’s coordinator, Anna Boyer with a simple goal.
“We want kids to see that playing is learning and that history is fun,” Pryor said. “The whole goal is fun.” Pryor’s said her favorite toy in the exhibition isn’t one plaything, but rather a host of two beloved toy brands housed in one corner of the exhibition and composing a special section.
“I love the Barbie vs. GI Joe section the most,” she said. “It’s just so much fun.”
The museum held the exhibition’s opening reception at the same time as 2019’s first Last Friday event, driving foot traffic to the museum with opportunities for kids to play with vintage toys outside of the Hillsborough Visitor’s Center.
Once families arrived at the museum, visitors of all ages could take a look at the toys housed in glass cases, while also playing with toy trains and Tinker Toys and doodling with markers on a large roll of drawing paper in the exhibition.
“Our kids were interested both in the fact that their parents are old and that we know what these toys are and in the fact that they could play with some toys,” Katie Merritt, an opening night visitor to the museum with her husband Chad Merritt and her three young sons, said. “The can learn while also playing here, and otherwise I would never bring them in a museum because they’re three little boys.”
In addition to hands-on and historical components, the exhibition also features a series of 16 paintings by local artist Barbara Younger, a maker of “art for children and whimsical adults.” Her “The Toys are Escaping” series will be available for purchase at the exhibition, and all proceeds will benefit the museum.
Artist Ann Hobgood, the creator of “Recycled Folks,” or small figures made from recycled materials, will also have a selection of her work on display at the exhibition.
Hobgood also loaned the museum some of the vintage toys on display. She said that, as a retired teacher and an artist with a reputation for playful work, she is excited for kids to have the chance to see her creations on display at the museum.
“I love toys of all kinds,” she said. “I love it when kids see my work and are inspired — they may not be able to recreate my work with metal but they can go home and make their own with paper and other materials.”
In addition to the toys on display, there will be programming such as an art event with Barbara Younger on Oct. 6 that will coordinate with the exhibition. “Let’s Play!: Children’s Toys and Games” runs through Nov. 20 and all proceeds will benefit children’s programs for the museum.