The exhibition is from Tartu Toy Museum.
Designed by artist Mare Hunt.
Toy animals made by shepherds from wooden sticks represent one of the oldest types of toys still preserved today. Most likely, many generations of Estonian children played with them for centuries. By the second half of the 19th century, toy stick animals spread all over Estonia.
While looking after the grazing livestock, young peasant boys and girls built for their toy cattle enclosures, barns and drinking-wells from rods and stones and took care of them just like they did of the real farm animals.
Small children received their first toy animals from fathers, grandfathers or older brothers and sisters skilled in carving, and those who reached the age of shepherding made their own wooden toys.
The shape of such stick animals was extremely simple and generic, with only the most essential traits brought out: cows and bulls had horns, pigs were round-shaped and with snouts, horses had arched necks, noses and ears of sheep were made by a double incision. These were the four most widespread stick animal types.
As a rule, these animals did not get feet, only a few cows and sheep received tails from a piece of bark or a thin splinter. Except for pigs, all stick animals had smoothly carved bellies. These toy animals were whittled from branches of foliage trees because their bark was easily treatable and allowed, for instance, pied cows to be made.
The head of a cow, bull or ox was made thinner from the sides because horns were incised there. Sometimes horns were carved with the rest of the animal from the same branch. The cross or square under the belly denoted the cow’s udder. The bull was characterised by a triangular notch carved under the belly.
A horse was made from a crooked or twiggy piece of wood to correctly depict the animal’s neck. Ears were carved with wedge-shaped incisions. Sometimes the heads of horses were carved out in more detail and, unlike other stick animals, horses often had wooden feet and lint tails.
Pigs were whittled from round branch bits, with the front sharpened to a cone shape. For sheep, two small notches for the nose and ears were incised in the part that was to represent the head. Stick animals were guarded by a shepherd-boy made from a forked branch. The ends were sharpened with the knife so that the shepherd would not fall when thrust in the ground. Sometimes the shepherd-boy even had a notched face.
Other farm animals and fowl like chickens, roosters and dogs were rarely made from wooden sticks. At the same time, waterfowl were more frequently made from reed and bulrush. Other natural objects like pine cones, chipped stones leaves, etc., were sometimes used as toys too.