Artist Sarah Lugg Regan is carefully gluing dolls to the back of a plastic Stegosaurus. Surrounded by buckets of toys in a sun-filled room in Epperson House on the campus of University of Missouri-Kansas City, Lugg Regan and her assistant Ben Breslow are working on a two-story sculpture for the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures.
When the museum reopens on August 1 after extensive renovations, this 150-foot "Toytisserie" — a rotating ribbon of metal covered by whimsical scenes of toys — will be in the lobby, greeting visitors.
A deluge of toys
In August 2014, the museum started a toy drive, asking for LEGO blocks, action figures, and Happy Meal figurines as material for the sculpture. Six 55-gallon buckets full of toys were collected at several drop-off sites.
Sifting through thousands of toys was daunting at first. “It’s the kind of thing you could spend forever on," Lugg Regan says.
“I decided to use a majority of the objects that people donated and work with that rather than running off and thinking, ‘I’ve got to find the perfect Snoopy or the perfect vintage character holding a balloon in the air.’”
Channeling the creativity of children
As an artist whose specialty is working on detailed collages using mostly natural materials, Lugg Regan has found herself challenged by the sheer variety of plastics, metals and rubber. Each toy has to be painstakingly fitted with a rare-earth magnet before being added.
”When you drill into it (the toy) you’re not quite sure how deep the material is and whether there’s metal behind it or if it’s hollow. If it’s hollow and you don’t have a tight grip, the machine just whips it around and before you know it you’ve got Snoopy spinning around.”
Her goal has been to keep each scene alive with a sense of playfulness. “It’s a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of objects to organize,” she says with a laugh.
As a mother of two young boys, Lugg Regan says she was inspired by the way they make toys interact with one another.
“They don’t just keep Legos all together. There will be Legos and oh, there will be army men sneaking into the side and oh, there’s a pirate here jumping off the top of the building.”
Re-discovering creative freedom
Sculptor Ben Breslow was brought onto the project in January. Breslow grew up surrounded by toys at his father’s business, Moon Marble Co. in Bonner Springs, Kansas.
He's been inspired by the excitement of discovery. “Two weeks ago I was working on this space scene and I had just brought in a rock — a pumice stone — and it worked just perfectly as an asteroid," he said. “So we just went and got some red lava rock from Home Depot and it works really cool as an asteroid field. That was a lot of fun.”
Lugg Regan says the project has brought home for her the creative freedom that comes so naturally to children.
“The enjoyment of play and just letting the imagination just run which children do,” she said. “They’re very good at it. We’re not so good at it when we get older. We’re busy thinking, ‘Oh, what are we going to have for dinner.’”
A new life for toys
Many of the donated toys carry memories. “My sister-in-law very kindly donated her Raggedy Ann and her Raggedy Andy," Lugg Regan says. "When my husband saw that he said, ‘I remember the Christmas she got that. Is she really sure?’”
But Lugg Regan says the toys will have new life in the sculpture she is building.
“The great thing about this is that we all have toys like this from our childhood that stay in a cupboard. Here they are going to be on display and everybody can come and see them.”
The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, reopens Saturday, August 1, 5235 Oak St., Kansas City, Mo. 816-235-8000.