On the shelf of a former tavern, now jam-packed with thousands of antique toys, a small plastic dog toy looks out with huge plaintive eyes.
It’s Bimbo, Betty Boop’s dog and boyfriend from 1930 until 1933. His character was banned in 1933 by censorship laws that felt that the cross species love affair smacked of beastiality. As the museums creator John Fawcett is quick to point out, his collection isn’t necessarily for kids.
While it may feature antique and vintage toys, it is also not about nostalgia, according to Fawcett. “It’s just been a lifelong search to find images I like. It’s not about nostalgia for me, it’s about aesthetics.” said Fawcett to the Bangor Daily News.
A professor of graphic design at the University of Connecticut for 32 years, Fawcett is in his early 70s, and has been collecting cartoon images, toys and other items that appeal to his artistic sense for over 50 years. The Lone Ranger, Felix the cat, Popeye and many other familiar characters fill the collection, but there are some purposeful absences as well. Winnie the Pooh is notably missing because John just doesn’t like him.
As a child who grew up before the time of television, Fawcett went to the movies for entertainment. To remember the huge cartoon images he saw on the silver screen, he would run home and draw them from memory. The tradition carried on even as Fawcett grew up. As an adult, Fawcett found himself competing and collaborating with another toy collector in New York. The two collectors would find rare toys and send each other drawings of their new acquisitions. If one found a second copy of something rare they would send it to the other collector. (These childhood drawings also formed the basis for Fawcett’s colorful, psychedelic paintings of cartoon characters which are featured in the adjoining gallery.)
One curious item in the collection is an image of Mickey Mouse riding a goose with a trident and bomb in hand, an image created by Disney for the Floyd Bennett Airfield in New York during WWII. (This insignia can be seen briefly on the side of the planes in King Kong.) Disney made many variations on these military images using almost every character in its roster. Another item in the museum’s collection is a bomb with Donald Duck’s smiling face on it. Yet another example of how cartoons aren’t always kid stuff.
Kept as a private collection for years, when Fawcett retired and moved to Maine, he opened his collection up as Fawcett’s Antique Toy and Art Museum. Opened in 1997, the Toy Museum and Fawcett have been going strong for nearly twenty years, collecting toys and images that strike on the power of cartoon imagery and his sense of aesthetics.
The museum is attached to an art gallery and shop that sells, you guessed it, antique toys.