By Edith McClintock
I visited the Tbilisi Doll and Children’s Art Museum mostly because its colorful balconies caught my eye every day on my way to work while I lived in Georgia. But I also thought it might be silly and unique—kitschy.
Based on a previous visit to the natural history museum in Borjormi (a much smaller town in the mountains), I didn’t expect much—maybe a damp, slightly creepy space overcrowded with Chucky dolls—white eyes rolling and pink cheeks curved in evil grins. But the doll museum is actually fascinating (and only a little Victorianish creepy), although best experienced if you speak Russian or Georgian. Later visits to Tbilisi museums proved that most are also quite modern and interesting (I especially loved the icon museum).
The doll museum was created in 1937 by a Georgian children’s author and teacher who donated much of the original collection. Over the years, the museum fell into decline, with theft, flooding and financial problems. But in recent years, many of the exhibits have been restored.
The first level of the museum houses a collection of antique puppets and dolls from around the world, several of them reminding me of flamenco dancers and folk dolls my grandmother used to bring us back from her word travels—long since tossed in the trash due to my mom’s overzealous decluttering (my sister and I are still working on forgiveness).
The best toys in this exhibit are the ones that come alive—the mechanical and musical dolls that dance, sing, blow bubbles and play instruments. Today they seem a curiosity, but intricately constructed mechanical toys built in the 18th and 19th centuries presaged modern day robotics, and some of the greatest inventors of that era built mechanical toys.
Up the colorfully decorated stairs on the second floor is the Children’s Art Museum with an ongoing exhibit of children’s artwork created in the museum’s own studios. When I visited, there was also an exhibit of student paintings and sculptures around environmental themes.
My favorite exhibit was on the top floor—beautiful modern dolls, puppets and toys created by Georgia artists, most of them for sale. I wanted to buy pretty much everything in the room, and controlled myself only because I was in Georgia on a Peace Corps salary. The other room on the top floor had a collection of Georgian folk dolls from the 1960s and 1970s, with a great space for doll-making parties. But like many Georgian museums, the rooms were closed and we had to ask staff to open them.
We weren't allowed to take photos of the mechanical dolls on the first floor, but below is a video with some of the best (dolls start at 00:18).
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