Stoves, Barbies, and a Hurdy Gurdy


You know those senseless dreams in which, for some unknown reason, you are in a strange place quietly admiring a row of gleaming old stoves and then you step through a door and are surrounded by a frantic buzzing and whirring of hundreds of toys and creepy dolls come alive, and you escape down a hallway to find a room with a billowy roof, full of old cars being driven by stuffed animals and music machines blowing bubbles?  Well, there’s a museum in Maine that kind of feels like that.

IMG_2173It’s called Bryant Stove and Music in Thorndike, a small town just a few miles from Unity, home to the Common Ground Fair.  Bryant’s sells beautifully restored antique wood cooking and coal heating stoves and for those alone it’s worth a visit.  But it also houses a quirky, amazing collection of stuff, from button collections, to dancing Barbie dolls, to gorgeous working gramophones and player pianos.  It is a little hard to describe, actually.

IMG_2248There are three sections in this small museum: the stoves; the toys; and everything else.  The entry section belongs to the stoves, with rows of ornately decorated coal stoves on the right and many vintages of wood burning cook stoves on the left.  IMG_2261IMG_2250They were for sale but sadly we don’t have room for one.   IMG_2257The next attraction was the toy room.  It was an experience.  A switch on the wall brought the room alive from floor to high ceiling. 20150728_103134It was a mechanical toy fantasy land–a frenzy of movement, sound, color, and details–too many to take in–unlike anything I’ve ever seen.IMG_2183IMG_2208 To the accompaniment of carnival music, airplanes whirled, a bear teetered on a tightrope, toys rode on a moving ferris wheel, stuffed animals danced, and–my favorite–Barbie dolls jerkily emerged from a curtain in a fashion show.  20150728_103253

Not your typical Barbie dolls. This was a tap dancing show.

Not your typical Barbie dolls. This was a tap dancing show.

There was way too much to take in.  Every bit of space was stuffed with toys, moving or posed.  IMG_2207IMG_2186It was dusty, kind of weird, very random, and oddly wonderful.   IMG_2191

IMG_2180My favorite part of the museum, however, was the third section, a quonset hut with a billowy roof.

When printing photos, odd details jumped out, such as the feet on the left.

When printing photos, odd details jumped out, such as the feet on the left.

Is that a sausage grinder in the corner?

Is that a sausage grinder in the corner?

It was brimming with a fascinating hodgepodge of machines, from a whimsical collection of air-powered motors, to an amazing evolution of working music-making machines, flanked by old buggies and cars, all interspersed with miscellaneous odd and quirky things.  And stuffed animals were propped in the oddest places.IMG_2219

A working hurdy gurdy

A working hurdy gurdy

There were informative signs throughout and, if he’s there, Mr. Bryant provides a personal perspective on his treasures.  IMG_2240We unfortunately only caught him for a short time.

IMG_2239It takes time to see everything at Bryant’s.  IMG_2246It’s like digging through some amazing person’s attic, or brain. IMG_2217 We didn’t even scratch the surface.  The museum was dog-friendly, but Zoe was nonplussed.   20150728_104122Next time, we’ll leave Zoe home, and have a leisurely browse through this creation of a brilliant, unique imagination. IMG_2243


30 thoughts on “Stoves, Barbies, and a Hurdy Gurdy

  1. Bill and Muir’s dream come true…they actively seek out museums like this. I will definitely share this with them. And actually, I appreciate these little quirky places too 😆. Thanks cousin!

  2. Ooh, not sure I’d be able to look round a place like this for more than 5 minutes. Dancing dolls would give me the creeps. Zoe looks bemused by the whole experience!

    • Ha. You would have had nightmares–guaranteed. It was like a Zombie Barbie convention overseen by staring, creepy baby dolls. At least there weren’t any clowns. Zoe was bemused–she couldn’t figure out what we were doing there.

  3. The old stoves remind me of the wood stove my grandmother cooked on her entire life. I enjoy wandering around places like that. I’ve been in plenty of antique shops here in the south but none with the kind of stuff you saw there. The owner must have some amazing stories to tell.

    • I love the old wood cook stoves. These were so beautiful, I was caressing them as if they were living creatures.
      Yes, amazing is right. We heard the tail end of one of Mr. Bryant’s story–he was playing an old cylinder gramophone of a comic storyteller. Not only is he a marvelous history source, but he can demonstrate how those old fragile magical machines work. We can’t wait to go back when he is there.

  4. What a fascinating place! I love looking in places like these. What an amazing collection of things. I love the stoves and seeing old toys takes me back to my childhood when life was a little more simple and we had to use our imaginations rather than watch screens all day! Thanks for sharing this really interesting array of items.

    • You’re welcome. What struck me there was how much attention to beauty and craftsmanship there was in even the most utilitarian pieces. Many of the stoves were works of art.

    • Maine is full of wonderful places and some fantastic museums. This one is quirky and a bit out of the way, but if you are anywhere near the area, it’s definitely worth a stop.

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