A group of locals is forming in Southampton with the goal of establishing a permanent base for the Toy Museum of New York in the heart of the village.
The Toy Museum of New York is a traveling museum that has put on exhibitions around the state for 10 years but has never had a place of its own. With 5,000 objects in the museum’s collection, all donated, Executive Director Marlene Hochman is eager to establish a base for the museum and her ideal location is on the quaint streets of Southampton Village.
Orson Munn, a former village trustee, has offered the museum his collection of more than 1,000 tin soldiers, many of which he painted himself. His daughter, Linda Munn, and local antiques dealer Sue Madonia have joined Ms. Hochman in her mission of establishing a new museum in Southampton, where Mr. Munn’s collection can be properly cared for.
He began collecting when he was 5 years old. Now 83, he stopped gathering new pieces last year and set his sights on ensuring that his collection stays intact after he’s gone.
“I’ve had a lot of fun doing it,” he said, “and I’d like to see the collection taken by one museum, if possible, because they tie together so well.”
The walls of Mr. Munn’s hobby room at his Gin Lane home are covered in shelves, each depicting a historic battle from the time of Napoleon through World War II—he served with a PT boat squadron during World War II himself.
He strives for accuracy in each piece of his collection, making sure he has all the colors right when he paints the uniforms on, and he stands the soldiers in the proper formations. For a battle of the Zulu Wars, he stood the British soldiers in the nearly impenetrable British Square formation. He researched the Zulu Wars by reading history books and watching the films “Zulu” and “Zulu Dawn.”
“They were very accurate in uniforms and attitude,” he said. “It was almost like a history lesson.”
Mr. Munn himself can give a history lesson about each battle on his shelves and about each toy soldier’s role.
In fact, part of Ms. Hochman’s plan for the museum is to record oral histories from seniors about the toys they once played with.
“Many of them did not have toys growing up the way children do today,” she said. Parents, or the children themselves, made the toys, she said. They weren’t just bought in a store for $12.99.
Ms. Hochman said storing the toy museum’s collection is increasingly difficult as more donations keep rolling in, and properly archiving the collection is a lengthy and challenging project.
The museum doesn’t take just any old toys, she noted: “It has to have some historical significance.”
The idea for a toy museum came to her when she was teaching children’s chess classes in Brooklyn—and only boys would show up.
It was familiar scenario for her.
“I was the only girl chess player in my middle school,” she recalled. “Nobody wanted to play me.”
But when she replaced the standard chess pieces with Barbie heads, and pitted the blondes against the brunettes, girls came to her class to learn chess.
She said she realized that toys could be used as an attraction to educate children.
The museum was formerly known as The Doll and Toy Museum of NYC, but Ms. Hochman changed the name this year when the New York State Department of Education granted it the only state charter for a toy museum.
Ms. Hochman puts on five or six exhibitions a year. Some notable venues have included South Street Seaport, the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.
“Our goal is to build a permanent site out here,” she said during an interview in Southampton Village. “What we’d like to do is put everything we’ve done over 20 years under one roof.”
She added that she would like the museum to work with schools to develop curriculum aids tied to exhibitions that are in line with what students are learning in history classes.
“A fun museum is a great first-time visit for children,” she said, adding that many museums are so sophisticated that children can’t enjoy the experience.
Ms. Munn said she hopes to attract families from all over the country, if not even farther. “Collectors will fly across the world,” she said.
As for her father’s collection, she said her family will have it appraised and form a foundation so it will be protected for perpetuity.
Ms. Hochman promised the Munn collection wouldn’t leave Southampton.
“It would stay out here where it’s been built since Mr. Munn’s childhood,” she said. “It belongs out here.”
The first phase of the museum plan is to collect $250,000 for renderings and a feasibility study that will consider whether it’s better to build something new or to renovate.