Childhood Identity

For the research component of my Art Foundation Final Major Project I visited both the V&A Museum of Childhood and Pollock’s Toy Museum in London. It was an adventure into the enchanting stories of childhoods past, each museum offering a collection of the weird and wonderful: toys, dolls, doll houses, rattles, tea sets, puppets. If you too decide to visit these museums I hope you will experience a similar level of both discomfort and awe as I did. Because there is something both very odd and very wonderful about looking at an object from another person’s childhood. This being a person you will most likely never meet or know. I felt with distinct clarity how each object had its own narrative, and although to the present day viewer it could appear charming or eerie, only to its original owner would the true value be known.

In the V&A Museum of Childhood I came across Rachel Whiteread’s Place (Village), her collection of 150 doll’s houses from over 20 years of collecting; they range from the homemade to manufactured, from Tudor cottages to Georgian mansions. Yet interestingly all the houses are empty of objects or people, all lights out, it is always nighttime in the village. I found that, like much of the museums collection, theses doll houses acted purely as vessels; encasing the memories, treasures, and emotions of the owner, within. Yet when we display these objects to be dissected by the viewer, they become as empty as Whiteread’s dollhouses’, isolated from their original purpose.

Pollock’s Toy museum also had toys with a story, housing one of the oldest surviving dolls, Caroline, dated 1822. Her companion doll a few years younger, crossed the Rockies in a wagon. Caroline’s face had been cracked with age; but the fact that both dolls remain intact, is a testament to their value to their owners. They have been passed down through generations and now preserved behind glass.

These visits inspired me to read further into the idea of how we form memories in childhood, every object and every garment we touch are imbued with nostalgia, something more powerful than we can comprehend.

That people could come into the world in a place they could not at first even name and had never known before; and that out of a nameless and unknown place they could grow and move around in it until its name they knew and called with love, and call it Home, and put roots there and love others there; so that whenever they left this place they would sing homesick songs about it and write poems of yearning for it, like a lover…”
– William Goyen

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