A tiny but fascinating exhibition of antique architectural building blocks, puzzles and erector sets at ArchiTech Gallery serves as a reminder that when it comes to children’s playthings, less is more. Gallery owner David Jameson conceived the show as a sweet holiday amusement to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of his space, which specializes in original architectural drawings and prints, photographs and other art relating to the built environment. The oldest toy on view, a gorgeous set of lithographed Centennial Exhibition puzzle pieces from 1876, sits adjacent to a circa 1880 set of simple maple wood Froebel blocks of the sort that inspired Frank Lloyd Wright as a child. Nearby are various mid-twentieth century construction sets: vintage Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, a white plastic model skyscraper that looks like something the young Sol LeWitt would have loved and a miniature electric Ferris wheel that still works (in fits and starts, anyway) over fifty years after it was first put together. Charles and Ray Eames’ “The Little Toy,” a flat box containing only a stack of cardboard squares and triangles, some string and a set of wire frames, leaves the shape and structure of the toy itself almost entirely up to the child. Many of the near-pristine objects on view here were “Sunday toys” intended for occasional use only. Their fragility, coupled with the gallery’s limited elbow room, makes this an inappropriate show for the kiddies. For parents, however, the sparse selection underscores the idea that toys are made all the more wondrous, and more inherently meaningful, when given in limited supply. (Claudine Isé)
“Architectural Toys” shows at ArchiTech Gallery, 730 North Franklin, Suite 200, (312)475-1290, through December 27.