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The Recycled Toys exhibit was part of the American Museum of Natural History "Identification Day" which included games, demonstrations and short films focusing on play in different cultures.

Our thanks to the Museum and their staff for creating this wonderful event

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The Art of Play: Recycled Toys from Around the World

Afghanistan Toy Car - Tin, wood, pigment
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Afghanistan - Toy Car
Tin, wood, pigment
20th century
AMNH 70.2/5098

Recycle, v. 1. trans. a. To reuse (a material) in an industrial process; to return to a previous stage of a cyclic process. b. spec. To reuse (a waste material), to convert (waste) into a usable form; also, to reclaim (a material) from waste.

Children have always been fascinated with miniature versions of real things--dollhouses, action figures, and especially vehicles such as matchbox cars and dump trucks. Where toys and games are not easily available to children, they are made from whatever materials are readily accessible. Stones and pebbles are used in counting games, wood is carved to make spinning tops. In today's global climate where consumer icons of the West have spread throughout the world, objects are transformed, renewed, and recycled into something completely different, such as a toy airplane or a toy truck.

In this virtual display (from an exhibit shown at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) - spring 2002), we see toys from Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, and the United States, all made from various objects that were once used, discarded, found, and recycled into toys. What was once a bottle top is now the steering wheel of a toy truck. What was a can of soda is now the propeller of a toy airplane. The detailed craftsmanship of some of these toys is evident in car doors that open, steering wheels and bicycle wheels that turn, and propellers that rotate.

The Artists: A Case Study

In 1972 an organization called Enda was started in Dakar, Senegal, and has now spread to over a dozen countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Today, one of the primary goals of this non-governmental organization is to develop projects in urban areas for young children born into poor families and for unemployed young adults. One such project is a workshop in which children learn how to make and sell toys and other objects out of recycled materials. The wire car on display was made by a Senegalese boy in the Enda workshop in Dakar. Girls also learn how to weave bags, hats, and dolls out of colorful strips of plastic bags and other materials. Each child keeps a percentage of the proceeds for him or herself, and the remaining amount goes back to the organization to purchase materials.

The toys on display here were made by children participating in workshops such as those sponsored by Enda, as well as by skilled independent artisans who sell their crafts to passers-by, tourists, and collectors.

The Art of Recycling

Creating toys out of recycled material is not specific to developing nations. Craft fairs and flea markets in New York, for example, display objects made out of tin cans, rubber from tires, bottle caps, and other discarded material. Young children make toys out of Popsicle sticks and bottle caps for school projects. Throughout the world, children enrich the art of play, through transforming, renewing, and recycling everyday consumer products into toys.

Naomi Goodman
Div. of Anthropology
American Museum of Natural History

Click for Full Sized Photos

Toy Motorcycle and Bicycle
Mali, West Africa
Artist: Ladji Badiaga
Tin, wire, rubber.
Contemporary Sock Monkeys
NYC, United States
Cotton, plastic, string
Loan from private collection
Toy Plane
Cambodia (Phnom Penh)

Toy Car

African Toy car and truck
Toy Car
Dakar, Senegal
Wire, rubber
20th century AMNH 90.2/9110

Toy Truck
Kano, Nigeria
Tin, wood, cord, paint
20th century AMNH 90.2/6816


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