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Treasures in the Attic. The enchantment of childhood in mountain toys and games

The Fortress of Bard hosts from 6 December 2010 to 3 April 2011 in the rooms of the Cannoniere, the exhibition “Treasures in the Attic – the enchantment of childhood in mountain toys and games”. The exhibition, promoted by the Associazione Forte di Bard and organized by the Società B&C with the collaboration of Elvio Soleri, Mario Cravetto and Matteo Bruno, does homage to mountain-inspired toys and that alpine world made up not only of peaks, silent meditation, harsh everyday life and sport, but also that particular relationship with mountains that adults and children relate and interpret through toys.
Toys inspired by the alpine world are the outright protagonists of this exhibition project whose objective is not only to display a wide variety of objects, but also to allow grandparents to relive and relate their playthings to their grandchildren and fathers to illustrate their youth to their children. With toys, simple or complicated, indoor or outdoor, children create unforgettable moments imprinting those emotions in their memories. This is why the exhibition, with a particularly effective spectacular setting created by the Società Globe Teather of Steno Tonelli, seeks above all to reflect how we played in the mountains in a time span ranging from the early years of the 20th century to the present.

The exhibition is set out in seven rooms, five of which are reserved for various types of toys and games (cableways, sledges and bobsleighs, cars and trucks, skiers and downhill runs) offering the public an evocative trip back in time through vintage toys that have marked the childhood of entire generations. One room is dedicated to the world famous Aosta-Great St Bernard motorcar race launched in 1920 and which, with its thirty-four kilometres and 418 bends, was the longest and highest uphill time trial race in Europe. The theme of toys in the mountains and snow inevitably recall the world of tourism and holidays. On display there is also a valuable series of advertising posters created in Aosta Valley in the first half of the twentieth century, bearing witness to, with their graphic design and different styles, the evolution of taste and custom.

In order to understand the origin of the large toy production of the end of the 1800s, you need to refer to snow, one of the mountains’ most characteristic natural elements. Because of the undoubted fascination this element exercises both on children and adults, toy company catalogues from the end of the 19th century onwards, featured products recalling snow and all snow and ice sports.
In the early years of the twentieth century tin toys began to appear featuring children with sledges or skis; the production above all of German manufacturers such as Mayer, Distler or Levy. In the following decades the first mechanical toys appeared activated by spring mechanisms or pulleys linked to steam engines: the sledge runs of the 1920s were produced by the German firms Doll e Plank. Arnold, Tecnofix, Lehemann and many other French and German companies brought out, from the 1930s onwards to the present, children on sledges, skiers, cableways and telphers, mechanical pistes, attractively lithographed, activated by heavy-duty mechanisms which made them run for long periods. There was also a vast production of small plaster or lead figures featuring arctic animals or personages.

There is also a series of polar animals produced by the Italian company Nardi and other highly original creations made in the 1930s by the company Ingap of Padua: a mechanical female skier and a series of sledges. And yet again, models of toy cars, scale 1/43, coaches, railway carriages, models of Alpine troop skiers and the special corps of various armies reproduced in paste, lead or aluminium, by Italian, German, French and English companies. In the exhibition there are also civilian figures of male and female skaters.

All in all, over a thousand toys restoring to public memory a patrimony of great sentimental value linked to a now distant past but still integral part of the personal history of our grandparents and parents.