Friday, 27 May 2011

Toys: the Baby Flapper

In Ethel Blount's book Gifts of St Nicholas: A Study of Toys there are numerous illustrations of toys that presumably represented the traditional toys made and sold by 'The John Ruskin School', in St George's Hall, Kings Road (situated where there is now St George's Flats).  I presume that the illustrations were by Ethel herself, as they were in her other book, The Story of the Homespun Web.  Ethel relays her thoughts on toys and the child imagination.  
A sword and baby flapper from Blount, Ethel
Gifts of St Nicholas: A Study of Toys

For example she writes that toys "are unreal and suggestive; furnished with them the child learns to live in this world of fact because they hold the door open into the other world, the world of imagination.  If that door were shut childhood would die, and the nursery would have a population of pigmy men and women.  So while the rich people not unfrequently give their babes diminutive facts to play with, the poor, the meek, who are to inherit the kingdom, have only symbols of earth and heaven to give theirs.  Whom shall we pity?"

Modern baby
Ethel talks about the baby 'flapper', which we would now call a 'baby castanet'.  Her playful narrative is quite captivating: "To us it is a poor joke, but the baby sees the point of it, and of its woven rattle too.  It and all true toys may be absurd, but their absurdity is above, not below reason.  Only untrue toys are below reason, such as large, bottle-nosed rag policemen, golliwogs and the like.  The true ones are either implements of sport, imitations of lovely or useful fact, or pure symbols of imagination, and, of course, the kinds overlap. The baby's rattle is his attempt at sport.  Would you see it nearer?  Then come with me among my toys, and come reverently, for you are entering the temple of the child's spirit."

In this, and other references, Ethel seems to be reflecting the values of today's Steiner Waldorf teaching.  

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