posted on 18 Oct 2012 18:57 by Elena Pinto Simon
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EPS: Hello, Prof. Ogata. Welcome to the behind the scenes at the BGC BLOG. I know you are finishing up a book project. Can you tell us a little about that?
AO: Certainly. The book, Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America, concerns the discourse of childhood creativity and the material goods and spaces created for children during the Baby Boom years and into the mid 1970s. I look at toys, playgrounds and amusements like the playhouse, as well as the design of children’s rooms, new schools and changing educational values, museums for children, and the growth of art education programs and arts materials. My aim is to historicize the idea of creativity, rather than accept it as some kind of “natural” fact, and to draw attention to the ways that objects and spaces are agents activating this discourse. I see this as an historical question bound up with period concerns around individualism, conformity and politics of the Cold War, but I can’t help but see echoes in the use and commodification of the notion of creativity today. The manuscript is finished and is in the production stage at the University of Minnesota Press and should be out in March or April.
EPS: You are very immersed right now in the Swedish Toys Project – an upcoming exhibition for our Main Gallery. Tell us about that project, and some of the new areas you’ve been exploring because of it.
AO: This exhibition was the idea of Susan Weber and my role in it is an extension of my interest in the history of childhood, but it is quite a different from what I have done before. The exhibition will explore toys made of wood in Sweden between the late 17th century and the present. Sweden was never the largest producer of toys, nor did it claim the finest quality of goods. But this allows us to frame questions around a material that was readily available in a country covered with forests and which was largely unindustrialized until the late 19th century. So we are interested in Swedish traditions of woodworking, in the production of both individuals (including the work of children themselves) and factories like Gemla and eventually BRIO. We are also looking at themes such as toy types, including winter toys, educational toys, war toys, along with the horse, which encompasses the famous painted Dalecarlian horses that were once peasant toys and became in the course of the 20th century a symbol of Sweden itself.
EPS: You just finished a very successful cycle as the Chair of Academic Programs at the BGC. What did you most enjoy about being Chair?
AO: I very much enjoyed knowing more about the institution and how its parts all work together. I also liked meeting so many prospective students at open houses and getting to know them during the application process, and then welcoming them here as degree candidates. And I’ve come to appreciate even more how unique the BGC is in its rich course offerings, exhibitions, and academic programs.
EPS: You have a leave upcoming in the spring. What are your plans for when you are away?
AO: I’m going to work on some articles and begin the next book, which is only in the earliest stages of planning but will concern metal and the cultural metaphor of the metallic in Second Empire France. This is a deliberate departure from the history of childhood in 20th century America, but slightly closer to my earlier interest in Belgian architecture and design. I usually teach a survey lecture on European design in the 19th century and have long thought that the mid-19th century was an area that could stand far more investigation. I suppose it looks like I hop around aimlessly, but each study is connected to questions of how goods and the built environment are integral to our understanding of modernity.