MCS Design & Production, Inc. owner Allen W. Jessee created an enormous Slinky for the lobby of the Virginia Historical Society for its "Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s" exhibition. (Photo by Adrian Walker)
Starting today, stepping into the lobby of the Virginia Historical Society will be a bit different as patrons are greeted by a massive Slinky coiling across the floor.
At 4 feet high and 100 feet long when fully stretched, the Slinky is the world's largest, created by Ashland-based artist and owner of MCS Design & Production, Inc., Allen W. Jessee. Prior to Jessee’s creation, the unofficially recognized longest Slinky measured at 50 feet long and 6 feet high, created by artist Paul Sisko for DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.
The behemoth Slinky was installed today in the VHS lobby. It’s part of the new exhibition, “Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” which opens Feb. 24 and continues through Sept. 4.
VHS Vice President for Programs Andy Talkov is responsible for arranging the traveling exhibition’s arrival at the museum. The VHS will be the last stop for “Toys,” organized by the Minnesota History Center, where it opened in May 2014. Talkov says, “Who doesn’t want to see an exhibit full of toys? The era the toys represent is the largest demographic of people alive today. … They want to see these toys for nostalgic reasons, but also to bring their children and show them.”
Photo by Adrian Walker
The VHS’ giant Slinky gives the appearance of steel (which early Slinkies were made of), but it is actually made of ultra-refined MDF, which Jessee explains is basically recycled wood material including compressed sawdust. After creating a few other prototypes using materials such as plastic, Jessee and his shop hand Noah Parrish arrived at the final product. “It took a lot of experimentation,” Jessee says.
The Slinky took about a month to construct, and due to the lightweight material it weighs just 150 pounds, making it easier for Jessee and Parrish to transport it from the workshop. And yes, it is functional, although you’d have to have an aberrant amount of strength to be able to lift it (the DeSales University Slinky is nonfunctional).
While creating the world’s biggest Slinky would seem like an odd request, it was actually more like another day at the office for Jessee. “We do stuff like this all the time,” Jessee says with a chuckle.
MCS Design & Production creates props for television, film, billboards and more. He has created anything from a functional flying saucer to, more recently, a giant beehive.
The “Toys” exhibition is a look at the playthings of our past. From Gumby to Mr. Potato Head and Barbie, the gang’s all assembled.
“Everyone is interested in their own story, where they come from," says Talkov. "Toys are a great way for them to connect with their own personal story and to share that story with others.”
Talkov says the exhibition is not only nostalgic, but it also represents the state of American history during that era. For instance, a lot of space-related toys were made during the 1950s due to the space race. Another example is the plastic Star Wars action figures of the 1970s, which were made smaller due to the oil embargo.
Wonder which toy was the first to be advertised on television? What about the year the first African-American doll was released commercially? When did the first electronic toys begin appearing? Have all these questions and more answered during the exhibition. Filling 5,000 square feet of space with nearly 500 toys and games, it is the largest special exhibition featured at the VHS to date.
Open to all ages, many of the toys featured, including LEGOS, Silly Putty, Star Wars action figures and, yes, Slinkies, are all still manufactured today. There will be a hands-on “garage” where patrons can have some interactive fun with classic toys.
Check out the three period living rooms, which are designed to resemble play-sets through the eras and include themes such as education, television’s influence on toys and how toys prepare children for adulthood.
The giant Slinky is open to the public for viewing. Don’t forget to use the hashtags #ToysAtVHS and #VHSBiggestSlinky on social media when you take that selfie.
The Virginia Historical Society is located at 428 N. Boulevard. Tickets for the toy exhibition are $10, $8 each for groups of 10 or more, and free to members and children under the age of 18. For more information call 358-4901 or visit vahistorical.org.