Toys from Trash and Pooping Santas

Miss me? It has been a long time since I’ve blogged. I feel as if I was caught in the scene from “Ragtime” (the musical) where they depict the abuse of the assembly line workers (Speed up the belt!) I try not to inject politics into LATDA (since you endanger your non-profit status when you do – ask that church in Pasadena) but these are not times that are friendly to non-profits or cultural institutions. Funding is shrinking like never before. People around the world have suffered major catastrophes. Government money is going either out of the country or into homeland security. People are depressed and trying to get along with activities of daily living. Who has the time, energy or money to support the arts and cultural institutions that could educate people about other cultures so they won’t feel threatened by them?

Two things happened last weekend that reminded me of how long we’ve been working on making LATDA a reality. One was a photographic spread in the Los Angeles Times Magazine by Don Barteletti called "Toy Story". His six photo spread showed children in poverty-stricken parts of the world playing with toys that they created from the flotsam and jetsam of their spare existence.

The article reminded me of two early T(toy) – files that we started. The first was a COLORS magazine article on toys from around the world. I tried to order it from the web site but could never get their shopping cart to work or even a response from their email contact. There is a tantalizing preview of the stories on their web site, but maddeningly, no mention of dates or other details. There is a section on handmade toys from war-torn countries that is pretty interesting if you have the patience to deal with the flash components of the site.

Right after seeing the COLORS magazine, I attended an exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance (2001) called "Not Sold In Stores" Like the toys seen in the LA Times story, this exhibition consisted of toys made by children from cast-off trash. Ingenuity and creativity combine with the primal urge to play and results in some pretty fun toys. The version of the exhibition that appeared at the Museum of Tolerance was small and installed in an awkward, off-to-the-side location in such a way that it was impossible to walk around a display to read or view all of the artifacts. I kept wishing that LATDA could give the exhibit its due and devote a larger space for the exhibition as well as add some educational programming.

The best objects were soccer balls made out of wadded up plastic grocery bags and various types of netting to hold them together. One of the few statements that appeared in the display said that there was a preponderance of helicopter toys wherever they went. There was one made out of a gourd, one of wire and one made of wood scraps. There were some very interesting dolls. Two from Africa were made with what appeared to be real hair. What was strange is that it was thick, straight, black hair. Couldn’t tell if it was from an animal or a human.

One comment by one of the children was that he hoped to grow up and make “real” toys. I would like to have met that child.

Pooping Santas

This Christmas I bought a couple of toy candy dispensers (of questionable taste) for gifts. They were a pooping snowman and a pooping reindeer. The toy loads from the head and a gentle push of the head ejects a round candy from an appropriately placed hole in the base of the toy. The snowman poops white snowballs (although it was suggested that it should poop ‘coal’) and the reindeer poops red and green candies.

The corresponding T-file for LATDA was brought to my forebrain today when I found a Pooping Santa among the post-Christmas toys at Y-Que in Los Feliz. It reminded me of the Toy Museum of Catalonia in Spain.

When LATDA was in its conceptual stage we did a lot of research of toy museums of the world via the internet. One Google turned up a page of the Toy Museum of Catalonia. At the time none of the site appeared in English. It consisted of photographs of several small clay figures called ‘caganers’ which translated to ‘crappers’. There were crapping priests, nuns, sea captains, wise men, mothers, couples and even a Santa. They were very graphic representations that left nothing to the imagination as to what they were doing. The puzzling thing was what connection they had to a toy museum!

I saved the link for some time, but it disappeared one day to be replaced by a multilingual web site for the Toy Museum of Catalonia. (Spend some time on this site…it is truly delightful!) Over the years the web site has changed, but there was never any reappearance of the caganers.

With this recent discovery of the crapping Santa candy dispenser I was inspired to search for the meaning of the caganers again. And what a difference three years makes! Not only did I find references to the caganers; it seems that there was an exhibition of the collection from the Toy Museum of Catalonia at
Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts up in Napa in 2002! (Although how it fit into their mission statement is something I’d like to hear more about. There is even a web store in Spain that offers a great selection of caganers including one of George Bush.

An article by API writer, Sarah Andrews, explains that the 18th century tradition of the caganer is connected to the nativity displays in Spain. Caganers are hidden in the elaborate nativity scenes and the game is to find them all. They supposedly symbolize the re-fertilization of the earth.

Needless to say the Pooping Santa did much to re-fertilize my brain.

Happy New Year and thanks to all you LATDA supporters who renewed your memberships! Your dollars and faith in us are keeping us going!