Last year, there was a great deal of interest in our exhibition ‘Meet You at The Radiant Hall’ which looked back at the fun and activities staged at this venue.
As expected, those people who attended balls, dances, concerts, and even a boxing match, were most excited and many have told us stories, which we added to our files.
However, something we didn’t expect was the popularity of our activities area.
Apart from designing and installing the actual exhibition, museum staff spend quite some time thinking about how we can connect the theme of the objects on exhibition, and their story, to the younger hands-on audience.
So this exhibition featured ‘peg people’. We supplied our craft table with the humble (and very old fashioned) wooden clothes pegs, and lots of crafty stash – fabric, felt, pipe cleaners and shiny bits and pieces. Youngsters were invited to create a peg person, either to take home as a souvenir, or add to what we hoped would be a party of peg people dressed up in their finery.
Some of the creations were most ingenious from party frocks to pirates, mermaids, and even a few super heroes.
During the school holidays, and especially during the appalling weather we had, it is not surprising that we had very good numbers. Sometimes, there was a sizable throng of people around the activity table. What has surprised us was that children all of ages seemed to have undertaken this activity as something completely new and different.
Not so long ago, every mother or grandmother would have an impressive collection of things to occupy children during school holidays, especially when playing outside wasn’t an option.
Scrapbooking was popular and Ashburton Museum has a number of scrapbooks which feature ‘scraps’ – little designs made specially for scrap books (obviously) or pages cut out from magazines.
My mother had two of the royal family, which she decorated with little drawings. Not only did it keep her busy when her cousin caught scarlet fever; going through the scrapbook entertained her as well.
Everyday objects, such as pegs, were often revamped. This was a perfect activity, as not only would the child be kept busy designing the item, but the finished object became a play thing.
I can recall my aunt keeping old or odd socks and with wool, pipe cleaners, buttons, and other found objects, my cousin and I would transform them into puppets and then perform ad hoc plays for the family. It was quite an occasion with my ‘arty’ cousin making tickets and me singing in intermission! My aunt, no doubt grateful we kept out of mischief for a day, provided a splendid afternoon tea.
Such basic crafts were an important part of children’s education. It taught ideas such as colour identification and developed manual dexterity. It required children to use their imagination, and increase their communication and social skills.
Not only was it fun and a chance to be creative. Such activities were designed to entertain both boys and girls. A peg could be a pretty party person or a gun. Fabric could make a dollies dress or a pirates patch.
There was no expectation that the item would be retained (although of course some were) but there was a freedom knowing that the saved resource wasn’t expensive or important, so after it had been used, it could be thrown out.
Just rummaging through the latest pile of ‘found’ objects had so much excitement and potential. I’m sure mothers had just as much fun sourcing the materials, and seeing them used, as children did using them.
Sometimes we imagine that the children of today have very high expectations and are hard to entertain. After seeing the intense faces of children, and their caregivers, and the time spent searching through the materials we have on offer, it obviously isn’t true.
They may have play stations and iPods at home, but deep down they have the same creative streak as we did when we were little.
A few times I have overheard children ask if they can make more things when they go home? Perhaps we have ignited a spark with our activities: it may be something they hadn’t experienced before, or maybe children appreciate the time they can spend with their grandparent or friend on a shared project? We are not really sure why peg people caught on, but it was rewarding to see so many real people relishing the activity.
By Kathleen Stringer
- Inspirations for ‘Clothes Pin People’ from the McCalls Giant Golden Make-It Book for children, 1950s.
- Radiant Peg Party People made by visitors to Ashburton Museum these holidays.
- A page of ideas for masks from McCall’s Giant Golden Make-It Book, 1950s.
- Museum visitor Ashton with his Radiant Peg Party Batman.
- Museum visitor April with her Radiant Party Peg Person.
- Museum visitor Chase with his Radiant Party Peg Person.
- Museum visitor Jack, with Wingman.