Growing up, I was always the kid who got a little too close to museum exhibits. Let’s just say, ‘Don’t touch the art’ was a common refrain during my early years. But Tuesday morning at the Frazier History Museum, things were a little different.
About 60 children from the West End School could be found playing with armies of toy soldiers. They marched across diminutive valleys, climbed mini-mountains and forged rivers that span about the width of your hand.
All this is part of the newly-reinterpreted and expanded Stewart Toy Soldier Gallery. Donated by Charles Stewart of Frankfort, Kentucky, this collection of toy soldiers is one of the rarest (and most valuable) on display to the public.
Stewart began playing with toy soldiers as a child and started seriously collecting when he was a teenager. His mother, Millie Stewart, explains what it was like watching the collection expand.
“It started out as a lot of soldiers as a younger person and it grew and it grew,” she says. “It took over the house.”
She says one of the appeals of the collection is the various lenses through which it can be examined by visitors.
“You can come as a child and play, or you can get interested in the historical figures which we all relate to,” Millie Stewart says. “Or you can really get interested in toy soldiers and the different makes that are so incredible in this collection.”
Within the collection, the world’s most distinguished makers of toy soldiers are represented, including St. Petersburg, Heyde, Haffner, M.I.M., Lucotte, Courtenay, and Wm Britain.
Stewart’s contribution is an addition to the museum’s already expansive toy soldier collection. In total, there are about 16,000 toy soldiers with over 10,000 soon-to-be on display. There are dioramas representing great periods of history, famous battles, and coronation displays from the UK and France.
The Frazier’s expanded toy soldier collection will also feature a local collection beyond Stewart’s contribution. A Kentucky Derby set will be showcased on the first floor, and a set that was played with by well-known Louisville judge Robert Worth Bingham will be displayed in a case with original boxes.
Many of these sets remain safely behind glass, but there are plenty of plastic replicas scattered around the museum intended to get history into the hands of children of all ages.
The Stewart Toy Gallery is now open to the public. More information is available here.