Living with toys

DSC_0186Juan Jimenez Izquierdo lives surrounded by his childhood, being of a generation that knows both traditonal handmade toys and commerical plastic ones. He lives in his childhood home (left to him by his parents),  which he has turned into a museum of his collection of toys, comic books and more related to childhood mostly from the 1950s to about the 1980s.

It is a very spacious building for Mexico City with four bedrooms upstairs, two parlours, patio, and garage, all of which are filled with items he has been collecting for over forty years. Fortunately, Jiminez is an organized man, which keeps the collection from completely overwhelming the space and its visitors.

He says he had a wonderful childhood and family growing up. In a nearby market, there was a man who made and sold traditional toys. His production varied with the season. For example in the spring there would be kites to take advantage of the wind. He was fascinated by both the man and products.

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These are made of paper and can hold a child.

As a young adult, he was first a primary school teacher, later moving over to a career in cultural promotion with the National Institute of Fine Arts, focusing on programs for children. During a workshop, he fell back in love with the toys of his youth when they were used as part of a puppet show set up. This led him to the Museo de Artes e Industrias, a museum dedicated to handcrafts which was by the Alameda Central and their gift shop. Here he began buying traditonal toys to collect, which continues to this day.

Two rooms in the front of the house are dedicated to handcrafted tradtional toys, organized by theme, rather than by material. There are sections dedicated to Judas figures (the concept of juguete or toy, extends to items used for festivals), toy soldiers and Indians from the 1950s, animal masks, skeletons and other elements for Day of the Dead, cartoneria soldier helmets and cardboard swords, wood tops and yo yos, animal masks (the most common for children),

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Most of the classic images can be found in the collection, from those of Cantinflas, Catrinos, charros etc, with some odd elements such as a human figure with a duck head from the 1970s and more recent figures of the mascots of the Chivas and America Mexican soccer teams. Two exceptional pieces in the collection include two cartoneria horses on carts, meant to be ridden by the child and made to support the weight. These are extremely hard to find as they have ceased to be made for some time.

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The collection defintely shows a preference to what Jimenez himself as a child. With the exception of a few dolls, and some miniature dishes, there is nothing for girls. Two of his oldest pieces are small cartoneria figures which he salvaged from the old Museo de Artes y Industrias and closed due to a fire. He found the two by accident in their garbage.

Most objects were bought from tianguis (similar to flea markets)  or were given as gifts, and for this reason, most of their authors are unknown. Most of items come from the Mexico City area, but says he also searches in rural markets and has had items given to him from a number of other states. He has two long-standing relationships with two artisans, wood toy maker Gumercinda España and cartoneria artisan Sotero Lemus, as both still make traditional products with traditional techniques. He has great respect for those artisans that dedicate themselves to the craft, rather then hobbyists and works to obtain pieces from “real” artisans.

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Although now retired, his collecting of handcrafted toys has blended well during his career and continues. Jimenez has authored a book on cartonería La Cartonería Popular and is currently working on one dedicated to marbles. During his career, he initiated a number of festivals related to Mexico’s traditions and handcrafts, including one for Day of the Dead, with participating vendor/artisans selling traditional items related to the day, as a way to counter the influence of Halloween. In 2013, he inaugurated the first Cartonería Fair in Mexico City, completely on his own. He considers the fourth, held in 2016, to be the first successful one in terms of participation and events. Currently, Jimenez is organizing artisans to create a large scale display of figures related to the Beatles’ 1968 movie Yellow Submarine, scheduled to open in August.

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Rooms with non-handmade toys

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