ROM: Toy Soldiers
The miniatures in the Toy Soldier Collection come to life in this wonderfully charming display that encourages visitors to enter a red toy box and explore scenes of soldiers past.
- Royal Ontario Museum
- Toy Soldier Collection
- 115 sq. ft.
- Exhibit Design, Graphic Design
- Toronto, ON, CA
- Year Completed
The Museum asked R&P to develop exhibition casework and a multimedia interactive designed to display as many of the 5000 Britains Ltd. soldiers as possible from the Henry N.R. Jackman Toy Soldier Collection. The priority was a design directed at a young audience, rather than the more expected historical enthusiasts. We had to present the small microgallery such that it connected with visitors in a way that would both honor the collection but also address some of the challenging aspects of their colonial origins. The goal of the interactive audiovisual piece was to push the boundaries of what had been seen previously at the ROM while strategically targeting the younger audience.
Playful and immersive, an impressive array of 2500 toy soldiers in regimental stance showcased in brightly lit casework emphasized the magnitude and range of the collection. Each soldier is involved in the action, whether riding on horseback, fighting in formation or marching in a coronation parade.
The message that toy soldiers were toys first and later became collectibles is reinforced in the charm of the design. The tiny gallery is reminiscent of a little toy store. Referencing the red boxes and artwork which originally housed Britains toys, bright red colour and soldier imagery highlight the space.
The large-scale interactive media emphasizes play by asking visitors to add toy soldier regiments of their own to create a parade. The soldiers then come alive with stop-motion animation, marching out of the touchscreen console and onto the large wall projection where they joyfully parade around a children’s bedroom. Marching band music plays, and visitors are prompted to add more soldiers as well as a dinosaur, astronaut and giraffe—emphasizing the idea that play is about imagination, and fun is not bound by rules of regimental history.
Adjacent to the historic toys, modern toys have been added as easter eggs in the exhibit casework, connecting past to present.
This new micro-gallery delivered on the team’s key objectives; it’s a visually engaging and child-focused display. The aim was to include the fun and whimsy of the play we all remember from childhood while respecting military history, without focusing on warfare. The team chose to avoid traditional object labels in favour of an interactive experience combined with a minimal, open storage type of display.
Since opening, the gallery space has been filled with families. The mood is “delight,” with frequent interaction between children, their caregivers and the objects, as well as between strangers and even adult toy soldier collectors.