Lyman Allyn Art Museum

Connecticut College

New London, CT




Harris Place: New Home for Lyman Allyn's Collection of Dolls and Toys


Dolls From the Collection

For as long as most people can remember, the Lyman Allyn Art Museum has had a collection of dolls, dollhouses, puzzles, puppets, tin boats, wind-up cars and other toys. Visitors from near and far came seeking this charming collection that was tucked quietly into cases on the Museum's lower level.

In 1997, the discovery of aging electrical wiring in the largest of the museum's dollhouses led to the refurbishment of all the dollhouses and a plan to improve the display of the entire collection. In particular, museum leaders vowed to find a way to exhibit much more of the collection, especially the collection of toys, in an environment that would truly enhance their display.

The museum's work on these delightful dolls and toys in so many ways began to resemble that famous scene from the Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy's companions were buffed into shape in the Emerald City. With a "scrub, scrub, here and a scrub, scrub there," staff and volunteers combed out matted fur, shined up tin, pressed miniature dresses and spruced up faded rooms in preparation for a grand new display.

As the sprucing up neared completion, talk turned enthusiastically to adding more dolls and more toys to the collection - wind up cars, cast iron banks, tin litho ships and many more dolls! Those discussions, in turn, led to talking about looking for a bigger space: one large enough to accommodate growth and special enough to develop into a display world of its own.

The museum's search led the collection out of the Charles Platt main building up on Bolles Hill to downtown New London and ended soon thereafter. The very first time the staff saw Harris Place, they knew they had found the right space. These handsome, high-ceilinged quarters were large enough to house a mini-museum and the unique nature of the architecture lent itself perfectly to the creation of a distinctive display environment for dolls and toys. As if that weren't enough, the collection's neighbors included an English Tea Room, a Chocolatier, and an Antique Shop brimming with rare and unusual items.

Creation of this special mini-museum was completed December 10, 1998. Displays feature a large array of dolls and toys in an environment that resembles, to a large degree, an over-sized dollhouse. Taking a cue from the dollhouses themselves, museum staff has attempted to turn each section into a "playroom" that complements the "playthings" displayed. To reconcile the age-old dilemma in the museum field of tempting younger visitors with things they no longer are allowed to touch, staff designed special areas for active play throughout the museum. These areas feature dolls and toys related to the theme of the particular display in that section and are designed to offer children opportunities to interact as well as to observe.

The inclusion of play zones in the Doll & Toy Mini-Museum at Harris Place goes beyond an interest in simply making exhibits compelling to younger visitors. Addition of areas for play stems from an understanding of the importance of play in the development of healthy children. Specifically, play is a positive influence on a child's personal awareness and emotional well-being, as well as a contributor to a child's development of social skills, communicative skills, cognition, and perceptual motor skills. Not surprisingly, the processes of play -- exploration, manipulation, invention, imagination, creation -- are also the foundation processes of all creative endeavors, especially the arts.

Lyman Allyn Art Museum is located at 625 Williams Street, New London, Connecticut 06320. Take exit 83 off I-95. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 - 5:00 pm and Sunday, 1:00 - 5:00 pm. Closed Mondays and major holidays. Members always free. General public $4, Seniors and students $3, children under 6 free.

rev. 11/26/10

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