New Athens museum provides its own toy story

 26 Oct 2017 - 16:11

New Athens museum provides its own toy story

By Deborah Kyvrikosaios | Reuters

ATHENS:  A mother’s determination to make Christmas special for her daughter is the inspiration behind the latest addition to Greece’s cultural scene - a toy museum.

Maria Argyriadi learned how precious toys are the hard way.

Clutching an old, worn black and white photograph from childhood showing her own toys beneath a Christmas tree, she relates the story of how during the festive season her parents could not afford more than one new toy.

Her mother would secretly take her old toys aside and repair them, as well as make patterned dresses and undergarments with crinolene, and put them all back under the tree.

The idea to become a toy collector occurred to her during a visit as a young woman with her husband to an antique flea market in Athens in 1970.

“I saw a bear, similar to one I had and loved. (It was) torn, without an ear, an eye...My mother’s words, to love my toys and not to throw them away, have remained with me, and I thought how is it possible for someone to have thrown this away?”

Argyriadi, a mother of two, took the bear and sewed it up.  “I took care of it. That was the first, and slowly I started to collect,” she told Reuters Television.

That bear now sits in a case, along with the other childhood toys that her mother repaired, in the new Benaki Toy Museum in Athens.

Argyriadi amassed a collection of more than 20,000 toys, of which 3,000 are on display. They span a period from antiquity to the 1960s, and come from Greece, Germany, France, Britain, the United States, Africa and Asia.

One of her favourite toys is significant for the story behind it. It is miniature doll furniture made by a mother for her child’s birthday during the 1941-45 Nazi occupation of Greece from firewood belonging to German soldiers that had taken over her home. The mother used her nail polish to decorate it.

“It was really very simple...That piece speaks to you, and when her daughter, who is now old, brought it to us, we could see the love she had for it, we saw in fact that she did not want to part with it,” said Argyriadi.

The museum includes a display of items remade by elderly Greeks from the toys of their childhood. They include bows and arrows from tree branches and string, cars and trucks from tin food cans, thimbles and bottle caps.