The tow headed "boy" on the left is a long ago version of myself. I'm in my grandfather's sweet, clean barn and the other urchin child who is working so earnestly on her saddle tack is my cousin, Margie. Margie was lucky enough to live on the ranch and I was visiting. What were we doing? We were "riding" the saddles that were so thoughtfully stored mostly in our reach and demonstrated by my baby sister.
The ranch saddles were hung from the barn rafters to keep them dry and safe from critters. We kids loved to climb on them and swing. My mom took the photos, so at this moment an adult was present, but, my memories of playing in the barn are pretty unsupervised.
It's at about this time during one of my visits to my grandparents ranch that I remember grandma providing us with one of the neatest toys ever. It was a Mr. Potato Head toy. Not the one with a plastic head like our kids have now but a prehistoric version. It consisted of a set of eyes, ears, lips, etc. very much like the modern toy but made of metal. On the back of the parts, where a modern set has a plastic tab that fits into a slot in the plastic potato, this set had an inch and a half long ice pick like spear with a very sharp tip. You stuck the eyes, ears, etc. into a real potato. We also experimented with the big carrots that were stored in the cellar and given to the horses for treats. I was pretty small and my memories are a bit fragmented but while playing with this toy (you know where this is going) my brother was stabbed with one of the pointy bits. I remember lots of blood, maybe a tetanus shot and the toy disappeared never to be seen again. Even my family thought this toy was too dangerous for their very young, and these folks let my brother drive the truck when he was nine and thought nothing of hoisting their toddlers up on a giant horse for a ride. (You've seen the photo evidence of our barn escapades.) I wasn't raised by sadists. On an almost daily basis I have reason to give thanks for being born to a family that was capable and caring. My parents and grandparents weren't negligent, they just lived in a less enlightened time. Imagine all the people who designed, manufactured, stocked in a store, purchased and gave to a child this scary version of a toy.
As time goes on we (the collective whole society we) have decided we need to protect young larva as much as possible and how we do that is still evolving. In 1972 the Consumer Product Safety Protection Act came into being and it's been amended and improved over the years. In the recent past most of America has been alarmed to find that many toys, even from well know makers, have contained lead based paint or other toxic materials. Most of these have been made in China but often the ultimate manufacture was unknown. In response, in 2008, our government passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act with some specific rules for all products marketed to children. Mostly it said that children 's products shouldn't contain lead or certain phthalates and that products had to be labeled so we know who made them and where and most controversial, that children's products had to be tested by a third party to prove they met the lead and other standards. The labeling isn't hard to comply with but the testing was impossible for an artist crafts person (like me) to comply with. A whole lot of artists, including me, rejoiced when the rules were modified to allow someone like myself to make toys or childrens' decor as long as I use products that have been tested and certified free of lead or other toxins. Wood was declared to be non toxic and not in need of testing but coatings, paints, varnishes and all finishes have to be from a source that certifies they have been tested and are compliant.
Some makers of childrens toys use wood and only finish it with peanut oil or beeswax (which could be eaten). The above teething toy by the wonderful littlealouett is a perfect example. While I appreciate this look I want color and pattern and I want more color than i could get with berry juice. Fortunately, there are child safe finishes. I have three considerations in choosing what I use for my arks, toys and decor.
1. All components must meet CPSIA standards
All paints, sealer and finish I use are labled "AP" by the Art and Creative Materials Institute.
I date all items and save receipts and the dated containers of finish and paint so I can show the paint used on a specific item.
2. My comfort and safety
This may sound strange but something that can meet the CPSIA standards may not be the best thing for me to use every day. For example, when I started making arks I top coated everything with Minwax Polyacrylic. I used it because it said it was safe to use on infant cribs. (I have an empty can that is labeled "crib safe".) I also liked that it was water based. This product does not meet the 2008 CPSIA standards. The product didn't change the standards did. I contacted Minwax and they recommend Fast Drying Polyurthane for childrens products. Fast Drying Poly is not water based. I would not be able to use it in the studio (which is a spare bedroom right next to the master bedroom). There would be too many fumes. I would need a spray booth in the garage, a resprator, some heat to make the finish dry, etc. Maybe sometime down the line but I need a water based product.
3. A Beautiful color and Finish
This comes after the safety concerns but it's important to me. I want my colors to be beautiful and not fade and I want a beautiful satin look and feel to all my products.
Thank heaven we've come a long way from sharp pointed Mr. Potato toys. Safe toys are complecated but we can do it.