Robert wasn't a man of many words. In fact, he tended to repeat himself over and over and over. Still, what he said long ago in his scratchy, singsong voice stills resonates: "I am Robert Robot, mechanical man/Drive me and steer me/Wherever you can."
The sixteen-inch-high red-and-silver toy, modeled on a 1950s sci-fi character, would deliver his recorded message with the turn of a crank. The gimmick was simple, especially considering today's supersized toys, and the mere memory of his voice can provide a passage back to simpler times.
Whether it's a well-worn stuffed animal, a clunky action figure or even a deck of cards, certain toys and games can serve as touchstones to the past. And while the feelings such treasures evoke can be dismissed as mere nostalgia or sentimentality, they're nonetheless real. Simply put, certain playthings have the power to make adults smile as easily as children. These days, that can't hurt.
Sadly, there's no Robert Robot in the new Toyland Memories exhibit now on display at Denver International Airport, spread along the walkway between Jeppesen Terminal and Concourse A. Even so, this show, organized by the DIA Art Exhibition Program, includes an impressive range of vintage toys from the Aurora History Museum, the Denver Museum of Miniatures, the Wings Over the Rockies Museum and area toy buffs.
A metal Graf Zeppelin from the 1930s is docked near replicas of planes from the '40s. In another display case, a mini-United Nations convenes with a selection of dolls from China, Japan, India, Portugal and Greece, courtesy of the Colorado Touch of Color Doll Club. A set of junior carpenter's tools -- the Buddy "L" Tool Chest -- and an early Erector set stand ready to build whatever you can imagine. Not all of the items are from history's storage bin, however. A G.I. Joe doll, which became the rage after it was first introduced in the 1960s, and an HO-scale train set are ancestors of toys still popular today.
Just as any toy chest mixes oddities with the familiar, so does this exhibit, with its Answering Eightball, dominoes, a fire truck, Tom Mix cowboy collectibles and sports gear. During their stay at DIA, they'll be doing what toys do best: generating smiles.