Wheels & Heels exhibit rolls into the Norton Museum

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.-- The "Wheels and Heels" exhibit at the Norton Museum of Art is opening with a delightful mix of iconic toys, and an aim to gather an audience of all ages.

Between the candy-colored walls of a large exhibit space, Guest Curator Matthew Bird unwrapped individually-labeled items.  More than 800 Barbies, Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars were fished out of careful wrapping along with thousands of additional tiny accessories and pieces.  

"Yes, an administrative nightmare, but a delight to the eye," he joked.

The exhibit includes toys from a span of more than 50 years. 

"I think it’s so easy to write these off as old fashioned toys from a bygone era, but the reality is they have stayed with us in a really vibrant way for 60 years.  No other product does that, just toys," he said.

The lasting impression of toys can be carried into adulthood.  It's why, Bird says, a person is likely to spot something in the exhibit that speaks to their personal story, and everybody is likely to spot something different.

Ashley Simmons is a graphic designer at the museum, and she is also a Barbie enthusiast.  Simmons says Barbie played a significant role in her childhood, proving women could do anything.

"She has careers, she dresses well, and she’s smart.  And she has a great looking boyfriend," she laughed.

In her childhood bedroom in her parents' home, Simmons has an extensive collection of dolls she has played with and collected.  An only child, she collected more than 40 dolls plus cars, furniture and tiny outfits.  

Her mother, Cheryl R. Simmons, has an original Barbie doll from 1960.  Cheryl says her childhood friend had the blonde doll, she had the brunette, and the two loved to play with Barbies together.

Cheryl explained, "You can play with Barbie and have a whole friend, lots of friends, you can have a Barbie party, which, obviously we did."

At the Norton's exhibit, Ashley spotted multiple dolls she played with as a child, plus a white Corvette Barbie car she owns.  She was impressed the Norton's car still had an original box.

"I have that as well, but unfortunately I drew on it when I was younger, graphic designer in the making, created a logo on it. That said Barbie in nail polish," she laughed."

Bird says, that's part of the point: to experience a piece of your child while exploring the iconic and lasting nature of the toys.

"That the toys reflect our own times and our own needs and our own interests.  So the things we wanted to happen in 1966 had to happen in the Barbie dolls too.  So they are a portrait of who we were over the last 50 years," he explained.

"Wheels and Heels: The Big Noise Around Little Toys" exhibit opens at 10 a.m. on June 19, 2014 and runs through October 26, 2014.  On June 19th, the Art After Dark series will have a presentation by guest curator Matthew Bird with the history of the toys.  A band called The Shindigs will perform classic songs from the 60s and 70s.  Visitors will also have the chance to see unique cars in the parking lot of the museum. 

For more information, visit www.norton.org or call 561-832-5196.

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