Old World Mettle is a new chapter in the continuing story of Stiling’s Workshop. A business venture and art project, it will specialize in providing hand-built, traditionally-themed ‘toys’ through the means of ingenious and inventive contraptions.
Seemingly innocuous objects will become vessels for playful interaction, artistic collaboration and social experimentation. It will create an experience that tugs at the strings of the inner infantile puppet kept under lock and key by adult rationality. Using nostalgia as leverage, the intention is to rekindle an appreciation of the Inventor, Maker and Fixer-Upper.
Products / Exhibits
Exhibits will be divided into three categories based upon price and intended market. Available between £5-30, The Old-Fangled line will include modern takes on resurrected designs of basic antique playthings. Accompanied by the option to ‘pay-per-play’ at £1 per wind of locomotive or putt-putt boat race, this category will appeal to all budgets.
Mechanically restored or modified examples of original tinplate and clockwork toys will be offered for the Over-Hauled category. Much of this work will rely on purchasing vintage pieces to repair, and will need to be priced accordingly to form a mid-range of products. Well-built and well-loved, these custom antiques set the precedent for the quality of workmanship necessary for the final category.
The Spick-n-Span range will embody the history of the traditional toy genre while reviving it in a contemporary context. Available for the collector and admirer, one-off handcrafted artworks will be designed and built from scratch in the workshop, or supplied by a co-operative of fellow artisans doing much the same. The functionality as a ‘toy’ will remain, but each piece will be as unique as the individual who created it. This is a chance for customers to own a bespoke object born of many hours of hard work from a skilled craftsman to produce a high-quality piece. Each will be made complete with a description of the artist, testament to the mind behind the magic.
Operating as platforms for display will be two mobile stalls. On town streets and public events, they are to be spectacular in themselves: a mass of movement, colour and excitement. The large stall will invite the audience to play, interact with and race the exhibits. For practicality it must be modular, with removable and interchangeable sections. For public entertainment, eccentricity and improbability will be paramount to ensure a complex visual experience. The stand must be kept within manageable dimensions, be movable on wheels and pack away for transportation.
The small stall will be carried on the back in order to trade whilst walking the streets. Although allowances must be made for weight and practicality, it will be in keeping with the themes of the larger stall. Mobility is essential in this case as it is to be built to comply with The Pedlar’s Act (1871). Trading as a pedlar allows for interesting and diverse interactions with the public as well as trading at a reduced outgoing cost. The terms of the act state:
‘The term “pedlar” means any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, … or other person who, without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other men’s houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods, wares, or merchandise, or procuring orders for goods, wares, or merchandise immediately to be delivered…’
1871 CHAPTER 96 34 and 35 Vict
Surrounding and promoting the project, all design, artwork, packaging, posters and promotional videos will be devised in-house or in close collaboration with other artists. All of this work is to complement and underscore the design of the products. The branding is to be a culture clash between old-world industry and culturally-informed contemporary art. Striking this balance is essential to broadcast the underlying ideals of the project and keep it relevant in the modern age.
Artists are in need of more suitable platforms for exhibition. Alternatives that are separate from the public preconceptions of modern galleries and the restrictions of style that many of these settings present. Under the guise of a toyshop, there is no direct affiliation with the art world. In this way, artists can play by different rules. By using a mobile stall, it allows the work to be accessed by every onlooker without any barriers. It creates a clear connection between the work and the creator, both humanising the product and giving an insight into the benefits of supporting independent makers.
The toyshop will not be child-orientated and no product is intended to function as a child’s toy. The experience is for the adult: an irresistible array of imaginative playthings. The project is to be an experiment, using a ‘toy’ as a blank canvas on which adults can project their own narratives.
Toys have several desirable characteristics for social experimentation. They are age-old, seemingly innocent objects that will appeal to any generation. Adults are enthralled by the sense of nostalgia and happiness evoked by the imagination of the models. From the day we are born, toys and play are integral to early development, becoming symbols of a bygone time in adult life.
This facility with which children satisfy their imagination is a token of the spirituality of their artistic concepts. The toy is the child’s initiation into art or rather it is his initiation into its practical application, and when he has come to man’s estate no perfect work of art will ever arouse in him the same warmth, or the same enthusiasm, or the same confidence.
A toy is a catalyst for imagination, an exploration of an idea, just as a sketch is drawn before a mural and a model before a technological breakthrough. They have acted as representations of our culture for generations, miniature mirror images of man’s discoveries, achievements and pastimes. By using toys as a focal point, this project employs a method of instigating imagination through play. Ideas can be formed and introduced naturally through a subject that is essentially separate from art.
Re-establishing play is just one of the fundamental aims of the project. The beauty, creativity and accessibility of the hand-made will be promoted through toys and shop alike. Featuring objects built with soul by an artist using their own hands on their own terms, every piece is a testament to what can be made with knowledge and skill. It is important that basic materials, simple components and analogue movements are used so as to encourage an understanding of the manufacture and mechanics involved. In this way, the products will act as springboards for discovery, detailing practical methods that the owner can use for the development of their own projects.
Offering desirable and ethical alternatives to mass-produced items, sustainable packaging and upcycled materials for the products will be the base standard. The project will also retain the production ethic of ‘built to last’ in order to preserve high standards of construction and ensure the longest life for each piece. Integrating environmental awareness into the ethos of the business and its products will illustrate its widespread importance. As a global concern, an effort should be made to promote these values in any public facing venture.
The project is an opportunity to show how an inclusion of traditional craftsmanship and business values are still relevant and important in society. By emphasising the artists and patrons involved in running the shop, it will become an example of how community is essential in commerce. Working in collaboration with local artists and craftspeople, it is as much a service as a stall, offering entertainment for the audience and trade for the arts. When investing in a piece from any of the collections, the buyer can be assured that they are not just purchasing a unique ‘toy’: rather they are facilitating the continued development of the underlying ethic, as well as the future evolution of the project. They are enabling the artists to explore their ideas further and expand the range for future investors.