You’re sure to find joy, fun, and wonder in local artist Catherine Slye’s new exhibition displaying photographs of antique toys at the Walter Art Gallery in Scottsdale.

This project, named Joyland Toyland, took Slye in a completely different direction from her fine art photography that she typically focuses on.

In her fine art photography, like desert or urban landscapes shot at night, Slye said it is “about capturing the color that is created in the outside world, either artificially or naturally or projects where I’m using a single color as a unifying theme.” But this project was all about making color and experimenting with color and light, rather than capturing it.

Catherine Slye’s Joyland Toyland exhibition at the Walter Art Gallery includes photographs of antique toys.

Her inspiration for the exhibition was sparked when she picked out a toy at a local antique store.

“It felt like such a treat—such a surprise to find it,” Slye said. This toy was a dog figurine that she named Elvis. This is also her favorite toy because it started her on the path to this project.

She wanted to share how cool she thought the old toys were, and thought there was no better way to do it than through her images.

The most fun part about this exhibition is that it’s based all around color and toys. Slye specifically wanted to use vintage and antique toys because of their rarity and the materials used to make them: “The toy animals from the late 40s were made from celluloid more often than plastic and had more expressive faces and eyes than toy animals from the 60s or 70s,” she said. She collected over 40 toys throughout the course of one year for the exhibition and selected the ones that would catch light and allow her to play with their expressions. The toys she selected include animal figurines of sheep, donkeys, lions, elephants, a few types of dogs and more. 

Slye said that she was on an “obsessive quest for just the right toy.” The best ones had round plastic eyes that could catch a highlight, and were made of celluloid because they easily reflected light and color.

To ensure that she captured all of these unique details in her photographs, she had a specific technique to play with color and her equipment. She started with two lume cubes, a type of LED light, and roscolux filters which are plastic filters used in lighting. She selected complementary colors of the filters, taped them to the lume cube, then set that on a tripod and her camera on another tripod. She then used her free hand to manipulate the cube to create the color and shadows on the toys. The photographs included complementary colors such as purple and orange to add dimension to the toys.

Charlotte Strawn, Gallery Manager at Walter Art Gallery, said that the Gallery is excited for this exhibit because of Slye’s deliberate use of color and the emotion that it evokes, and because the toys that she chose each have interesting faces and expressions making each toy into a little character. “In its most basic form, Joyland Toyland is pure fun and we are all about having fun!” Strawn said.

She added that Joyland Toyland is especially exciting for the gallery because it contributes to their goal of empowering local artists as Slye is a well-established photographer in Arizona.

Joyland Toyland will be on display at the Walter Art Gallery in Scottsdale through Oct. 18.