Noah's Ark Toy

May 13, 2021

Noah's Ark Toy

Noah’s Ark Models have long been part of the European Folk Art tradition, generally associated with the celebrated cottage-industry of the Erzgebirge region of Germany, where the rough animal forms were fashioned on a lathe, before being carved in detail.
 
This more robust and engagingly primitive example is of a type known to have been made by wounded soldiers recovering from the 1914-18 world war, at the War Relief Toy Works in Stoke Newington, North London. This charity was a craft-based initiative set up to help the wounded servicemen with rehabilitation into civilian life. This later grew into a small “cottage industry” itself and pieces from the Toy Works were shown in the 1922 and 1929 British Industries Fair, with some examples originally stamped “Made in England by Disabled Servicemen”.
 
During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, children were discouraged from playing on Sundays, but Noah’s Ark toys were considered to be educational, due to their biblical origin, so were permitted, especially in Sunday Schools.
 
This example is in excellent original condition and the collection of animals includes the perennially popular pairs of giraffes, elephants and tigers. These, along with the others from the menagerie, would have been kept housed in the hull of the ark, accessed through the hinged roof, when not being played with.

The underside of the lid retains a historic printed verse:
 
God saw men's wicked ways
And nipped them in the bud.
He let it rain for forty days 
And drowned them in a flood.

The bad all died, but mark!
God saved good Noah's life.
He saved them in a mighty Ark
With his three sons and wife 

And two of every kind
Of insect, beast and bird
As He has said. For you will[find]
God always keeps His word.

So now with you and me - 
Be this well understood!
If bad we too shall punished be
But helped is we are good 

 
These British examples are typically more naïve and have larger figures than their continental counterparts, with each animal fashioned as a stylised primitive silhouette, from a single solid piece of wood. This meant they were more functional as toys and less vulnerable to losses or damage.
 
The ark and figures of the current example have a bold sculptural quality and retain much of the original hand painted decoration, all of which have developed a delightful playworn patina and unique character.

 





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