The Women Behind Toy Soldiers: Part II
Kooken & Cloninger Come to Tommy Toy
See Part I of The Women Behind Toy Soldiers.
Margaret Cloninger was an actress, and in 1935 had appeared on Broadway in ''L'Aiglon,'' and then remained with the company through their winter tour. However, according to Anna (Mrs. Hugh F.) Cloninger, ''Because of hard times in the theatre, she took up sculpting and became outstanding in the art. The girls (Cloninger and her girlhood friend, the sculptress Olive Kooken) roomed together. Most of their work was done by Epplesheimer and Company – the company made molds for Hershey bars among other things – but much of their casting was with this company, and Margaret Ruth married the vice-president and general manager, John D. Warren, whose father was owner and president.'' John Warren subsequently founded the Warren Lines soldier company.
According to Mildred Orr Hirth, ''I believe Margaret selected a subject to do, Olive helped her get started, corrected the figure when it was about half finished, and went over it at the end. She was trying to help her financially, but I think most of the work was Olive's.'' (Anna Cloninger remembers her relative also sculpted ''zoo animals'' in addition to her ''figures of nursery rhyme characters, soldiers and horses.'')
The fact that it may have been a collaboration of sorts makes separating just who did which work for Barclay and Tommy Toy difficult if not impossible. Each artist did receive separate credits on the copyright for Tommy Toy's nursery rhyme figures, but to my eye at least, the figures are in the same style, with, if anything, Miss Cloninger's work slightly superior. However, Cloninger is said to have given up all toy soldier sculpting when she married on March 26, 1941, so it can safely be said that all postwar sculpting of Barclay's soldiers was done by Olive Kooken. (Before that time, however, Barclay's Harry Bogaty remembers seeing the two women arrive together at the plant when new figures were needed.)
At least two of the Tommy Toy soldiers would seem definitely to have been done by Kooken, since they turned up again as Barclay podfoot figures – the wounded soldier holding his helmet, and the nurse with the towel over her arm. Kooken's work was generally distinguished by a smooth, nearly wrinkle-free look, quite different from the more realistic figures produced by Frank Krupp, who preceded her at Barclay. Unless Sally Newman is correct and Kooken did begin work for Barclay in the late 1920s, the sculptress' first work for Barclay appears to have been its civilian train figures, and then, around 1940, its cast-helmet soldiers.
Margaret Cloninger, according to Warren expert Steve Balkin, was brought in to improve the look of Warren's horses in its toy soldier line, and she may have sculpted some of the soldiers as well. It is known that horses were her prime interest. Collector Al Lane points out that she may have designed a lead toy train (possibly for Tommy Toy) as on the coal car and caboose are the initials “MCRR,” presumably standing for “Margaret Cloninger Railroad.”
See the May issue of TDmonthly Magazine for the final episode of “The Women Behind Toy Soldiers: Kooken and Cloninger.”
Read Part I here.
Richard O'Brien has been fascinated by toy soldiers virtually all his life. In the 1970s, he began his research and since then has published the results both in his books and trade-magazine articles. His books on toys include eight editions of ''Collecting Toys,'' the coffee-table book ''The Story of American Toys,'' and his mammoth ''Collecting American-Made Toy Soldiers,'' as well as many other books on soldiers, collectible trains, cars and trucks. This article is excerpted from his latest book, ''Researching American-Made Toy Soldiers,'' now available from Ramble House. His novel ''The One After Snelling'' is considered a ''perfect'' mystery. Read more articles by this author
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