Waldoboro toy museum holds pop culture’s artistic moments

Posted June 24, 2011, at 12:29 p.m.
Figurines from the 1930s based on Walt Disney cartoon characters at the Maine Antique Toy Museum in Waldoboro.
Figurines from the 1930s based on Walt Disney cartoon characters at the Maine Antique Toy Museum in Waldoboro.
John Fawcett, the owner of the Fawcett's Maine Antique Toy Museum in Waldoboro. Fawcett, a retired college art professor, turned his lifelong love for creating and collecting into a museum.  His collection spans from 1930s Walt Disney toys, figurines and original cartoon drawings to the comparatively recent memorabilia and figurines from the Star Wars series and E.T.
John Fawcett, the owner of the Fawcett's Maine Antique Toy Museum in Waldoboro. Fawcett, a retired college art professor, turned his lifelong love for creating and collecting into a museum. His collection spans from 1930s Walt Disney toys, figurines and original cartoon drawings to the comparatively recent memorabilia and figurines from the Star Wars series and E.T.

John Fawcett’s home is jam-packed with toys of every conceivable variety, from every decade of the past 100 years. But as he says, it’s not for kids.

Fawcett’s Maine Antique Toy Museum on Route 1 in Waldoboro, now in it’s fifteenth season, is a treasure trove full of tens of thousands of action figures, wind-up toys, board games, cereal box prizes, costumes, books, animation cells and much, much more than simply toys. And yet, your average video-game-playing 8-year-old is left shrugging their shoulders. Your average 40-year-old, however, who fondly remembers pretending to be Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia in the backyard, will flip for it.

It’s not about nostalgia for Fawcett, who retired to Maine in 1996 with his wife, Jacqui, after working for 32 years as an art professor at the University of Connecticut. It’s about the often under-appreciated artistic merit of the countless artists who drew, painted, sculpted, wrote and otherwise created the characters and landscapes of print, television, radio and film — especially in the 1940s and ’50s.

“This is about aesthetics, not nostalgia,” said Fawcett, 71. “Kids come in here and are bored to tears in 10 minutes. It’s for adults. It’s for someone who can really appreciate what is here.”

From pre-war radio play favorites including The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger, to iconic 1980s film creations such as “Alien” and “Ghostbusters,” the museum covers an incredibly broad swath of popular culture — and Fawcett can tell you just about anything you want to know about who, what, where and how those characters and stories came about. The museum, housed in seven rooms on two floors of Fawcett’s 1800s Federal-style house, is a labor of love for Fawcett, who works Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Betty Boop and countless other characters into his paintings, which are on display in one room.

Fawcett’s fascination with toys and other cartoon and comic-related ephemera stems back to his childhood in the 1940s. He grew up in Watertown, Mass., and as a kid he was an avid fan of comic books and radio serials such as “The Shadow” and the aforementioned “Green Hornet. “

“There was always something about those radio shows. You had to imagine everything on your own, and they weren’t dumbed down for kids. They were for all ages,” said Fawcett. “Some of them were very scary and adult. You don’t see that much nowadays.”

The Lone Ranger was a favorite, and as a kid Fawcett sent away for a ring that featured the character’s pistol as part of a cereal box-top promotional campaign. Fawcett still has the ring, as well as one of the actual pistols that he purchased decades later that was owned by Brace Beemer, who portrayed the Lone Ranger on the radio in the 1940s.

Indeed, one of the largest parts of Fawcett’s collection is of cowboy popular culture ephemera. Some of those items include the Lone Ranger’s mask, Gene Autry’s rodeo saddle and cowboy boots, a brightly colored Nudies suit worn by Roy Rogers and an original Daisy Red Rider BB Gun — which many may know from the movie “A Christmas Story.”

Fawcett began collecting in earnest in the 1960s, and aside from a three-year period in the 70s, his quest for rare, obscure and beloved items has continued unabated. He scours eBay regularly and visit flea markets in Maine to scan for hidden treasures. Though the museum is packed with stuff, it doesn’t feel cluttered. Nothing is obscured or haphazard; there’s just a lot of it.

“One of the challenges now is finding space to put new things,” said Fawcett. “You have to get creative and keep that in mind.”

It would take days to examine every item in the museum. A display of antique Mickey Mouse figurines — from the earliest ones from the 1920s, to contemporary versions — is just one part of the huge array of Disney items. Fawcett professes a love for older Disney films, especially “Pinocchio,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Bambi.” He particularly loves “Bambi,” as the landscapes and animals of the Maine woods were a direct influence on the look of the film — two white-tailed deer were shipped in the late 1930s from what is now Baxter State Park to Los Angeles to inspire Disney’s artists. Fawcett has original sketches from the production process of the film.

Then there are the original drawings of World War II insignia, as drawn by Disney artists for nearly all branches of the military during the war. There are the framed original drawings of “Krazy Kat” comic strips, as drawn by the great George Herriman from 1913 to 1944. There are life-size replicas of Yoda and E.T., countless promotional “Star Wars” items from fast-food restaurants and a wall of art from the “Alien” movies. There’s even a collection of Beatles toys from the “Yellow Submarine” movie. If Fawcett finds artistic merit in it, he has it.

“These were artists. The things they did with color and lines and the process they went through are fascinating to me,” said Fawcett. “If I can find an original, that’s much better than getting the mass-produced stuff, or replicas.”

The museum is one of those great roadside attractions that you see less and less of as time passes, fads change and real estate prices soar. Though there are a handful of more contemporary cartoons and comics that Fawcett enjoys — the work of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and “Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson are two of them — the films by Pixar and more current television cartoon series leave him unimpressed.

“It feels empty to me,” he said. “My heart is with the earlier stuff.”

Though the major draw is clearly the fabulous collection, Fawcett himself is an entertaining fountain of information if he’s available to chat during a visit. He speaks authoritatively on everything in his museum, from Superman to Kermit the Frog. His love for his work and his enthusiasm are evident as he describes the various historical and aesthetic touchstones from each character.

“I just want people to appreciate the art behind it,” he said. “It’s been an inspiration to me for all these years.”

Fawcett’s Maine Antique Toy and Art Museum is located at 3506 Route 1 in Waldoboro. It is open Memorial Day to Columbus Day 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Thursday-Monday; and from Columbus Day to Christmas noon-4, only on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $5. The museum is not handicapped accessible; disabled people are admitted free of charge. For information, call 832-7398 or visit home.gwi.net/~fawcetoy/.

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