Bruce Museum

Greenwich, CT

(203) 869-0376


Spinning Spheres and Whirling Wheels: The Art of Play

Oct. 3, 1998 - Jan. 17, 1999



The Bruce Museum of Arts and Science presents its major fall exhibition, Spinning Spheres and Whirling Wheels: The Art of Play, from October 3, 1998 through January 17, 1999. Examining the role of play in society, this family exhibition presents a multi-media visual and sensory experience for all ages and interests. Featuring toys, games, and sports based on the circle and sphere - balls, hoops, marbles, wheels, and tops - the exhibition uses art, artifacts, and interactive elements to demonstrate the importance of these forms in the world of play.

Spinning Spheres and Whirling Wheels: The Art of Play includes prints, paintings, drawings, and sculpture by such artists as Winslow Homer, Red Grooms, Janet Fish, Louise Abbema, and Jacob Lawrence, whose works show how play differs over time and from one culture to another. Images of some of the greats from the world of sport such as led Williams, Julius Erving, Jack Nicklaus, and John McEnroe capture the flavor, history, and excitement of the professional game. Antique toys and memorabilia illustrate the continuity and change in the design of balls, hoops, and wheels and their role in the world of play.

Interactive elements encourage visitors to experiment and learn more about the behavior of their favorite toys, games, or sports through play. The exhibition also explains how understanding these forces improves performance. For example, visitors can play on an early pin-ball machine, one that actually has pins, and then play a modern version to compare their skills and note the differences that have occurred in games over time. "Play transcends geographical, cultural, social, and gender barriers," explains Marianne Smith, Curator of Science of the Bruce Museum, and the curator of the exhibition. "Spherical and circular objects that whirl and spin have been used as popular toys in games and sports for millennia. The oldest known toy is the ball, and the first example was probably a round stone that was used as either a weapon or a test of skill."

Throughout Spinning Spheres and Whirling Wheels: The Art of Play visitors will be encouraged to participate in several interactive areas that show how spinning spheres and whirling wheels respond to frictional and gravitational forces. Children can enjoy experimenting with marble runs, spinning tbps, and interlocking gears, then sit in and steer a go kart. Families can play on an antique car racing game on display, or discover the principles behind the high wheel bicycle.

Right: Mechanical Bank, Clown on Globe, James H. Brown, cast iron, Bruce Museum collection, gift of Samuel F. Pryor

"The invention of the wheel introduced a whole new world of play," explains Marianne Smith, "one that continues to evolve as new toys and games are developed. The design of bicycles from the early giant wheel models to the racing bikes of today illustrates the advances in technology that have impacted the sport."

Spinning Spheres and Whirling Wheels: The Art of Play includes several paintings, drawings, and sculpture that show children and adults at play demonstrating visually the importance of balls, hoops, and wheels as recreational icons worldwide. With these fine and decorative arts and the many antique toys and memorabilia on view the exhibition explores how the art of play has changed and developed through the centuries and throughout the globe.

Left: Ted Williams, Donald Moss, 1974, acrylic on canvas, courtesy of the artist

"Play is not only for the young; it continues throughout life," said Marianne Smith. "Ball sports such as baseball, basketball, golf, and tennis are among the most popular recreational pursuits for the average American. The exhibition includes images of some of these sports' greatest heroes."

A full-color, spiral-bound book, Spinning Spheres and Whirling Wheels: The Art of Play, accompanies the exhibition. The family-oriented publication includes color photographs of the art and artifacts on display as well as simple instructions for hands-on activities to do at home. An optional bag of educational toys which include a top, yo-yo, and "happy-unhappy" balls will also be available.

The combination of artistic experience and scientific discovery has become a trademark for the Bruce Museum. Spinning Spheres & Whirling Wheels: The Art of Play follows this tradition in presenting visitors with the unique opportunity to explore the topic visually and technically, while providing a multi-media visual and sensory experience for all ages and interests. The exhibition is generously supported by U.S. Trust Company of Connecticut, F.A.O. Schwarz, Mary Staples and David Webber, and Betsy and Neil Allen.

rev. 11/26/10

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